ST. LOUIS — A grand jury has reached a decision on whether to indict Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson, Mo., police officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager sparked days of turbulent protests, sources close to the process said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) and the county prosecutor’s office are expected to hold news conferences later Monday, and prosecutors have notified the family of Michael Brown — the teen who Wilson killed — that the grand jury’s decision will be announced Monday night, family attorney Benjamin Crump said.
Crump and other sources gave no indication of whether Wilson, 28, will face state charges in the August shooting death of Brown, 18, which triggered a frank conversation about race and police interaction with African Americans.
The grand jury’s decision is the latest turn in a case marked in the national consciousness by the stunning images of clashes between protesters and police wearing riot gear and deploying tear gas in the days after Brown’s death. Details of the grand jury’s deliberations have leaked out in recent weeks, angering the Brown family and protesters who saw it as a signal that no charges would be filed.
Although a parallel federal civil rights investigation of the shooting is continuing, federal investigators have all but concluded that they do not have a case against Wilson, law enforcement officials have said. Federal investigators are also conducting a broader probe of the Ferguson Police Department.
If Wilson is not charged, government officials are bracing for protests in the St. Louis area and nationwide. They have discussed emergency plans in the event of a violent reaction, while protest and community leaders have mapped out their response in hopes of avoiding the unrest that exploded after Brown was killed.
In an interview with ABC News that aired Sunday, President Obama called for calm.
“Well, I think, first and foremost, keep protests peaceful,” he said. “You know, this is a country that allows everybody to express their views, allows them to peacefully assemble to protest actions that they think are unjust. But using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are.”
Wilson has been on paid leave since the shooting, and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Thursday that the officer was unlikely to return to work regardless of the grand jury’s decision. That reversed an earlier declaration that the officer would be welcomed back if not indicted.
Since Brown’s death, Wilson has not been seen in public, and few details about his life have emerged. His representatives had no immediate comment on the news of the grand jury’s decision. The officer reportedly testified before the grand jury and spoke with federal and local investigators.
Wilson shot Brown during a confrontation on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, blocks from the apartment of the teenager’s grandmother. The panel of grand jurors convened in mid-August, days after the shooting, and spent weeks considering the case.
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Impatience and pressure for a decision have been building among residents and business owners, as well as police officers, who have been working 12-hour shifts with all leave time canceled since Saturday, said Jeff Roorda, business manager for the City of St. Louis Police Officer’s Association. That schedule will continue through the aftermath of the grand jury decision.
“We have staffed up for civil disobedience, and now the guys are just waiting for an announcement,” Roorda said. “I imagine it’s just as tough on the Brown family and their supporters. The waiting is not easy on anybody.”
The St. Louis Police Department is projecting it will spend three times the amount of money budgeted for overtime this fiscal year ending in July, according to Roorda. Since the shooting, the city has paid out $1 million in overtime pay, officials said.
“We just can’t get through this until we get to it,” Roorda said. “There’s a certain psychological toll that battle-readiness takes on a person.”
At some businesses on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, sales have been down as much as 40 percent since the killing of Brown, because people have been nervous about shopping in the neighborhood, said Sonny Dayan, owner of a cellphone store called STL Cordless.
“We’re waiting for the verdict to come out, whatever it will be — we just want to move on,” Dayan said Saturday.
The grand jury’s decision comes amid growing tensions in recent days between state and federal authorities, with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. privately expressing his displeasure over the way Missouri handled the run-up to the grand jury’s decision.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard, which prompted a top Holder aide to call the governor’s office and indicate that the move may have escalated tensions, officials said.
The panel of grand jurors convened in mid-August, days after the shooting, and spent weeks considering the case. Discussions could have stretched on even longer; the group had been granted an extension through early January.
The closed-door grand jury process, much like the initial investigation, has been controversial throughout. In early October, for example, allegations of misconduct arose after a Twitter user wrote that a friend sat on the panel and didn’t think there was enough evidence to arrest the officer. (The woman later said she’d been hacked.)
In recent weeks, the most vocal protesters and local organizers had insisted that they never believed Wilson would face charges.
“It’s not if the officer isn’t indicted,” protest organizer Dhoruba Shakur said during an interview in early October. “It’s when. There will be no indictment, we know that.”
The Justice Department civil rights investigation was announced days after the shooting, with Holder traveling to Ferguson, where National Guard troops had been deployed amid an increasingly chaotic scene. In early September, Holder also announced that the department would review the Ferguson police department, investigating claims that officers might have engaged in a pattern of racial profiling or using excessive force.
“Anecdotal accounts underscore the history of mistrust of law enforcement in Ferguson,” Holder said. “As a result of this history, and following an extensive review of documented allegations and other available data, we have determined that there is cause for the Justice Department to open an investigation.”
Following the fatal shooting, protesters responded by gathering in the streets of Ferguson, calling for justice in the Brown case and broad reform on a municipal level. Hundreds spent their August nights following grainy livestream feeds from West Florissant Avenue, as activists and residents were hit with tear gas, and police in riot gear flooded the streets. Many who were arrested later claimed they had done nothing to prompt police action, and questioned law enforcement’s aggressive response to the unrest.
Authorities defended their actions, saying they were trying to keep order while respecting the public’s legitimate right to protest.
Clashes continued throughout October, occasionally spilling out of the St. Louis suburb where Brown was killed. St. Louis Cardinals fans confronted protesters outside of Busch Stadium during an ugly incident before a National League Division Series matchup, and demonstrators unfurled banners during a Rams game at the Edward Jones Dome.
Early on, there were calls for Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, to step down from the case. Activists, troubled by McCulloch’s personal and professional ties to law enforcement, demanded a special prosecutor. But Nixon wouldn’t ask McCulloch
to recuse himself, and McCulloch declined to step aside.
“As I have stated repeatedly,” McCulloch said in a statement. “I have no intention of walking away from the responsibilities and duties entrusted to me by the people of this community.”
Ferguson officials announced in September that they would make changes to a number of municipal fines and fees, which many said unfairly targeted those living in poverty. The city got rid of an administrative charge for towing vehicles, said it would start a citizen review board, and decided to tweak its court procedures, which previously penalized residents who missed court dates.
Still, tensions remained. Jackson, the police chief, didn’t apologize to the Brown family until nearly seven weeks after the shooting, in a taped statement. Jackson later tried to join in protests outside his own department, an ill-fated effort that only led to more clashes.
Brown’s shooting triggered a national debate about race, in part because it followed a string of incidents in which black men were killed under controversial circumstances. In July, Eric Garner was killed in New York when an officer put the 43-year-old man in a chokehold. There were similar outcries after the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was killed by George Zimmerman in Florida.
Jordan Davis, 17, died during a 2012 argument about music in Florida; he was shot in a gas station parking lot by Michael Dunn, a white man. The 2009 death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was killed in a California rail station, inspired a film.
News Source: Washington Post