UPDATED at noon Sunday with reaction from a co-owner of the Ferguson Market and Liquor. See further updates here.
ST. LOUIS • Citing previously unseen surveillance footage, a documentary that debuted Saturday at a popular film festival in Austin, Texas, claims that Michael Brown didn’t rob a Ferguson convenience store moments before he was fatally shot by police Aug. 9, 2014.
It instead asserts that Brown’s altercation with the shop was part of a misunderstanding tied to a possible drug transaction he had with store employees on a prior visit.
The new surveillance video used in the film, “Stranger Fruit,” suggests Brown first showed up at Ferguson Market and Liquor about 1 a.m., many hours before he and police faced off.
Filmmaker Jason Pollock argues that Brown first exchanged a small amount of marijuana with store clerks for two boxes of cigarillos in his early morning visit that day, according to a clip of the documentary included in a story by the New York Times.
At the last second before leaving the store, Brown gave the cigarillos back to the store clerks who put them behind the counter, according to the clip. The documentary asserts that Brown left the merchandise at the store to retrieve at a later point.
After Brown was shot by then- Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson later that day near Canfield Green Apartments, police released video of Brown strong arming his way out of the same store with cigarillos. His encounter with Wilson soon followed.
“Mike did not rob the store,” says the film narrator.
“It was a misunderstanding,” Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, adds.
On Sunday, Ferguson Market co-owner And Patel disputed part of the documentary's account. He said he wasn't working the night the newly released footage was shot. If some kind of transaction or exchange occurred then, Patel said, he isn't aware of it.
But Patel, 59, said that during the later encounter at the store, Brown "grabbed the cigarillos and stole them."
Patel is the man being grabbed and shoved by Brown in the previously released video recorded minutes before Brown’s fatal encounter with Wilson.
During that Aug. 9 encounter, Patel said, Brown grabbed the cigarillos, knocking some of them to the ground. Patel says he came around from behind the register to the front of the counter and demanded payment from Brown for the cigarillos. That is when Brown grabbed him and shoved him backward into a display of snacks, Patel said. A customer then called 911, Patel said.
Business was brisk outside the market on Sunday with a steady stream of customers coming and going. Numerous customers said they were unaware of the newly released video and hadn't seen it.
Jay Kanzler, an attorney for the convenience store and its employees, told the New York Times that his clients dispute the film’s version of events.
“There was no transaction,” Kanzler told the newspaper. “There was no understanding. No agreement. Those folks didn’t sell him cigarillos for pot. The reason he gave it back is he was walking out the door with unpaid merchandise and they wanted it back.”
It’s unclear from the footage included from the documentary clip what’s contained in the small package that Brown handed to store clerks. But the footage appears to show clerks holding the contents to their noses to smell.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in an interview Saturday that the fact that Brown was in the store earlier that day was “news to me,” but not necessarily surprising because the Ferguson Market was frequented by many people in the community.
But he said St. Louis County Police primarily focused on investigating the shooting, with Ferguson police handling the incident at the store.
Former Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said in an interview that he hadn’t seen the earlier surveillance video. He said it was unfair to connect the Ferguson Market to a drug transaction.
According to the New York Times, Pollock was alerted to the surveillance when he saw Brown’s earlier visit to the store mentioned in police records. Pollock later obtained the footage, though it’s not clear how.
The film was screened Saturday at the South by Southwest Film Festival.
David Carson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report
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