FERGUSON, Mo. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A grand jury has decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri police officer involved in the shooting death of Michael Brown, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced Monday night.
The grand jury will not be bringing any charges against Wilson at all, McCulloch said.
The panel had been considering whether to charge Wilson, the white suburban St. Louis officer who fatally shot the black 18-year-old after a confrontation in August.
Before announcing the grand jury’s decision, McCulloch gave a lengthy speech explaining that the grand jury was the only body to hear all of the evidence in the case.
The grand jury was selected back in May, before the Brown incident even occurred. McCulloch said he was fully aware of the concerns in the community that “the investigation of this tragic death might not be full and fair,” so he decided immediately to bring all the evidence before a grand jury.
“Our goal was that our investigation would be thorough and complete to give the jury, the Department of Justice, and ultimately the public all the evidence in making an informed decision,” McCulloch said.
McCulloch said details about the shooting had been variable and there had been questions about accuracy, and many witnesses gave statements early on that conflicted with each other – and often with physical evidence.
For example, he said, after the results of the private autopsy were released, some witnesses said they saw Wilson stand over Brown’s body and fire many rounds to the back, while others claimed that Wilson shot Brown in the back as Brown ran.
But McCulloch said an autopsy showed no wounds to the back, and no additional witnesses made such a claim. He said several witnesses also adjusted their stories, and some admitted they hadn’t even seen the event and had only heard about it from others.
Almost all witness statements were presented to the grand jury – including Wilson’s own, McCulloch said.
The jurors heard from three medical examiners, as well as experts on DNA, firearms, toxicology, drug analysis and other subjects, McCulloch said. They also examined photographs and physical evidence, he said.
The grand jury was ultimately presented with five indictments – with charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter. They had to decide whether Wilson was the initial aggressor, whether there was probable cause for Wilson to use deadly force, or whether Wilson acted in self-defense, McCulloch said.
Ultimately, the grand jury decided the evidence did not support charges should be filed, he said.
In the wake of the initial incident, some witnesses claimed Brown had his hands up and was surrendering when he was shot.
“He put his hands in the air, and he started to get down but the officer still approached with his weapon drawn,” a witness said.
But others have said other evidence points to a violent struggle. Investigators believe Brown reached into Wilson’s car, causing the officer’s gun to fire, before Wilson got out and shot Brown dead.
Minutes earlier, the unarmed 18-year-old had allegedly robbed a convenience store, shoving the store employee who tried to stop him.
McCulloch said the evidence showed that after robbing a convenience store, Brown was stopped by Wilson. There was a struggle when Brown reached into Wilson’s car and the officer’s gun went off twice.
“Mr. Brown’s blood or DNA was found on the inside of the driver’s door, the upper left thigh of Officer Wilson’s pant leg, the front collar of Wilson’s shirt, and on his weapon,” McCulloch said.
CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassman said immediately after the announcement, a man threw three or four eggs at the St. Louis County courts building in Clayton, Missouri, and screamed some words that cannot be said on television.
Soon afterward, crowds began pouring into Ferguson streets to protest the decision. Some taunted police, shattered windows and vandalized cars. Several gunshots were also heard. Officers released smoke and pepper spray to disperse the gatherings.
As McCulloch was reading his statement, Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, was sitting atop a vehicle listening to a broadcast of the announcement. When she heard the decision, she burst into tears and began screaming before being whisked away by supporters.
The crowd with her erupted in anger, converging on the barricade where police in riot gear were standing. They pushed down the barricade and began pelting police with objects, including a bullhorn. Officers stood their ground.
A building that was believed to be a Walgreens drugstore was also seen on fire as the protests continued. Other fires were also later reported.
As CBS St. Louis reported, Brown’s parents, McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., said in a statement, “We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions. 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.”
President Barack Obama addressed the nation following the decision.
“I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully. Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words – hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain,’” President Obama said.
He also asked law enforcement officials to use care and restraint in handling protests, and said while race relations have improved in America, a perception remains
“We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I have witnessed that in my own life, and to deny that progress, I think, is to deny America’s capacity for change. But what is also true is that there are still problems, and communities of color are not making these problems up,” Obama said.
Progress can be made, Obama said, but that won’t be done by “throwing bottles” or “smashing car windows,” and “it certainly won’t be done by hurting anybody.”
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, barricades at the courthouse were one sign of tension several hours before the grand jury decision was announced. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon met Monday afternoon with religious leaders, including the Rev. Traci Blackmon of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri, to urge people to keep the peace.
“The anxiety level in the community as a whole is off the charts,” Blackmon said.
The Ferguson-Florissant School District has also decided to close its schools and cancel after-school activities on Tuesday, “due to the anticipated increase in traffic and possible demonstrations in our area” as a result of the grand jury decision.
In New York, protesters gathered in Union Square early Monday evening and some began marching afterward.
And speaking at his National Action Network Headquarters in Harlem Monday night, the Rev. Al Sharpton said the decision was an “absolute blow.” He had a tone of resignation as he talked about the verdict, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.
“It was expected, but still an absolute blow for those of us that wanted to see a fair and open trial,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton previously announced plans for vigils in 25 cities.
Sharpton’s National Action Network had also planned for rallies outside federal courthouses in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island Monday night, but the rallies have been rescheduled for noon on Tuesday, CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported.
Speculation about the timing of an announcement swirled and largely peaceful protests took place during the weekend after the grand jury met Friday but apparently did not reach a decision.
Many had thought a grand jury decision would be announced Sunday, based partly on a stepped-up police presence in the preceding days.
McCulloch’s office had said he expected a decision by mid-to-late November, but it was ultimately not in his control. The 12-person grand jury deliberates in secret and sets its own schedule depending upon when the members are available.
Attorney Benjamin Crump said Sunday that they were frustrated the prosecutor did not charge Wilson himself or suggest a charge to grand jurors.
As it is, “you don’t have any direction, you’re just putting all the evidence out there and you’re going to let them figure it out and they can make up their own minds,” Crump said. “You know, it just boggles the mind why he thinks this is fair.”
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