Police in Ferguson, Missouri on Friday identified Darren Wilson as the officer who fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown last weekend, launching days of protests against police brutality that were met with excessive, militarized force until Thursday, when state troopers took control of the police department.
Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson, who was a six-year veteran on the force, had not had any prior disciplinary actions taken against him.
"A lot of the stakeholders had a big meeting conversation yesterday, and then yesterday evening, and we made the determination that today is the day," Jackson said during a press conference. "Nothing specific went into that decision, but we feel that there’s a certain calm," he said. "There’s a huge outcry from the community."
Jackson had previously withheld Wilson's name, claiming that the officer had been threatened on social media.
Following the brief press conference, Jackson refused to take questions or disclose any other information about Wilson or his work history.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said on Friday that he will ask Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to appoint a special prosecutor for the case, rather than current St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, after public criticism of the county's response to Brown's shooting, as well as the subsequent protests and police crackdowns. Dooley said McCulloch was biased in favor of police officers. Paul Hampel, a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said McCulloch told him during a phone interview that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon "denigrated the men and women of the County Police Department and what they've done" by replacing them with troopers from the Missouri Highway Patrol, who helped ease tensions and protect the protesters.
"The county executive believes Bob McCulloch is biased and shouldn't handle this case," said Pat Washington, Dooley's spokeswoman.
In addition to naming Wilson as the officer who killed Brown, Jackson also released a police report that names Brown as a suspect in a nearby store robbery, a call that Wilson had also responded to. Surveillance footage accompanying the report allegedly shows Brown taking a box from the counter and shoving the store clerk when he steps in front of the exit, seemingly to prevent Brown from leaving.
Brown's family questioned the timing of the announcement, noting that it was irrelevant to the case and calling it an attempt to assassinate Michael's character. In a statement, they said that were "beyond outraged at the devious way the police chief has chosen to disseminate piecemeal information in a manner intended to assassinate the character of their son."
"We don't care what happened before that point," said Anthony Gray, one of the family's attorneys. "It's irrelevant... Why did you shoot this unarmed teenager who had his hands in the air, period?"
Benjamin Crump, another of the Brown's attorneys, who also represented Trayvon Martin's family during George Zimmerman's murder trial, said the release of the robbery allegations were an example of "the old game of smoke and mirrors."
"[I]t’s bad enough they assassinated him, and now they’re trying to assassinate his character," Crump said.
Dorian Johnson, a friend of Brown's who witnessed his shooting, is also suspected in the robbery. Johnson had previously confirmed the theft of a $48 box of cigars to authorities earlier this week, his lawyer, former St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., told reporters.
Jackson's announcement was "Ferguson grabbing at straws,” Bosley said. "Their whole press conference was a disaster and unprofessional. At the end of the day this is about whether the officer used excessive force to kill Michael Brown."
The crowd at the press conference immediately began protesting again after the announcement, chanting, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"
Capt. Ron Johnson of the MHP, whose takeover of the police presence in Ferguson has helped restore peace and trust between officers and activists, said he was not consulted on Jackson's decision to identify Brown as a robbery suspect and that he would talk with Jackson about why he made the announcement. "I want to get a clear understanding about why that occurred," Johnson said during a press conference.
"I think [the robbery and the shooting] are two separate issues," he added. "People in our country commit crimes every day. I don’t want to mix the two, I’m not going to say that one justifies the other, and I think if we’re going to give answers, we need to not give hints. We need to say it."
Johnson's leadership in Ferguson on Thursday was, by all accounts, fair and benevolent. The atmosphere was reported by protesters and reporters to be "jubilant" and "carnival-like," as livestreams of the marches showed protesters cheering, hugging and taking photographs with police, who walked side by side with people in the crowds.
A rumor on social media had questioned whether the officer who killed Brown was a black officer named Darren Wilson who was president of the Ethical Society of Police, which represents many black St. Louis city officers, but that Wilson took to his Facebook page to reassure friends that he was a different person with the same name.
"The first thing we would like to assure the world is that this is a horrific coincidence," Wilson wrote. "May I assure the world that (the shooter) is not the President of the Ethical Society of Police's Sergeant Darren R. Wilson ... an 18 year veteran of the St. Louis Police Department."
The FBI is also conducting a civil rights investigation into the shooting.