On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown Jr. was shot to death by then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Almost six years later, St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell announced today his office will not seek charges against Wilson for pulling the trigger.
“We made painstaking efforts to look at everything,” Bell says at a press conference. “I’m not going to re-litigate the facts because they’ve been out in the public sphere for years now. I also want to be clear that our investigation does not exonerate Darren Wilson. The question of whether we can prove a case at trial is different than clearing him of any and all wrongdoing. There’s so many points at which Darren Wilson could have handled the situation differently and if he had, Michael Brown might still be alive. But that is not the question before us. The only question is whether we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred. The answer to that question is no.”
By Missouri law, Bell says his office would also have to disprove any self-defense claims beyond a reasonable doubt.
“We just could not get there with the evidence as it is,” he says.
Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, was shot and killed around noon after an encounter in Ferguson’s Canfield Green apartment complex with Wilson, who is white. Some eyewitness accounts said Brown was shot as he was charging at Wilson, while others say that he was shot with his hands up. Brown’s body remained in the street for about four hours before authorities removed him.
His death triggered an uprising throughout the region and country about police violence and misconduct toward people of color. Unrest followed for months in the St. Louis region.
“For decades leading up to the 2014 shooting, law enforcement in Ferguson and around the country overpoliced communities of color, used disproportionate and unnecessary force and violated many citizens’ constitutional rights far too often,” Bell says.
His office quietly reopened the investigation about five months ago.
“We made a point to not only not involve any local police, prosecutors in our office, staff in our office who were here at the time. We did not announce this or even let them know. As a matter of fact, you all know more than the attorneys in the office because we did not want that outside influence. We did not want anyone on any side being able to try and push us in any direction. We wanted to make this an independent re-investigation.”
The Obama Justice Department cleared Wilson of criminal wrongdoing and a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict him.
Bell says his office has not had contact with Wilson to inform him of the latest investigation or the results. He has no plans to release a report on the conclusions of the probe.
Bell did not elaborate on how Brown’s parents took the news, other than to say it was obviously not the answer they wanted. He ran for his position in 2018 after public criticism about the handling of the grand jury inquiry under longtime St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch.
“We had to get budget to create this. This is something we wanted to do at day one, but we quite frankly didn’t have the budgeting to do it,” Bell says.
Bell says he thinks it is time for the community to try its best to move on.
“There is no cause for celebration, obviously. This is a tragic case and again I hope this can help the community heal,” he says.
After Bell finished his remarks, a man who attended the press conference was escorted out by officers after becoming upset about Bell’s announcement.
“You don’t care about black people. You lied. You said you were going to get a special prosecutor,” he says. “You lied, bro. We knocked on doors for you. It’s over. This is your first and last term! It’s over! One term! Ain’t no integrity. You’ve got dirty cops.”
Bell, the son of a police officer, said after his election win that he would appoint independent special prosecutors for allegations of wrongdoing by officers.
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