ST. LOUIS — A grand jury has declined to indict Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson, Mo. police officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager sparked days of turbulent protests and a national conversation about race and police interactions with African Americans, prosecutors said Monday.
The decision means that Wilson, 28, will face no state charges in the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Although a parallel federal civil rights investigation of the shooting is continuing, federal investigators have all but concluded they do not have a case against Wilson, either, law enforcement officials have said.
A separate federal probe of the Ferguson Police Department is underway. But the prospect that Wilson will face no direct legal consequences for Brown’s death was expected to trigger protests in the St. Louis area, and in the hours before the announcement, scores of demonstrators gathered near the area where Brown was killed.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision in a lengthy news conference in which he went to great lengths to describe the investigation as fair and thorough. He said the panel had met on 25 separate days over three months and heard testimony from about 60 witnesses, along with experts on blood, DNA, toxicology and firearms.
“There is no question that Darren Wilson caused the death of Michael Brown by shooting him, but the inquiry does not end there,’’ said McCulloch, whose role in the case has been controversial because he is considered supportive of police by many members of the local community. “But the duty of the grand jury is to separate fact and fiction...no probable cause exists to file any charges against Darren Wilson.’’
McCulloch said the 12 grand jurors “poured their hearts and soul into this process. They gave up their lives, put their lives on hold, put their families on hold.’’ He said many witness accounts, many on social media, conflicted with the case’s physical evidence. For example, he added, some witnesses said Brown was shot in the back while running away from Wilson, but autopsy results showed no wounds to the back of his body.
Brown’s family rejected the outcome, saying in a statement that it was “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.’’
Family members then urged protesters to remain preaceful. “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen,’’ the statement said.
Wilson, in a statement released on his behalf to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said he has maintained from the start that his actions “were in accordance with the laws and the regulations that govern the procedures of an officer.’’
“Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions,’’ the statement said. “Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law.’’
The unusual nightime disclosure of the grand jury’s decision came after hours of confusion in which authorities went back and forth on when and how the news would be unveiled. The events spoke to the latest uncertainty over how to respond to the protests triggered by Brown’s death, which police initially put down in a paramilitary fashion before vowing cooperation with demonstrators and then cracking down again.
Shortly before the announcement, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had issued an urgent plea for calm. He expressed the hope that “regardless of the decision, people on all sides will show tolerance and mutual respect.’’ Saying he had visited on Monday with Ferguson residents, Nixon said “It’s understandable that they, like the rest of us, are on edge waiting for the decision.’’