Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Michael Brown, said he feared for his life while fending off punches from the teen, and again seconds later after a brief pursuit was reversed, and Brown came after him again.
Both times, that fear resulted in gunshots.
The Ferguson, Missouri police officer, who is white, told a 12-member grand jury that despite being 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing about 210 pounds, he felt like a 5-year-old attempting to restrain former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan when Brown, who is black, reached through his police car window.
Wilson said he struggled for his own gun with the 289-pound Brown, eventually firing two shots at the 18-year-old. When Brown ran, Wilson said he gave chase, only to have Brown turn around and charge him before he fired several more shots.
After three months of deliberations, the grand jury declined to indict Wilson. The decision triggered protests, some violent, in Ferguson and elsewhere last night.
“I’m backpedaling pretty good because I know if he reaches me, he’ll kill me,” Wilson told grand jurors on Sept. 16, in testimony about the Aug. 9 confrontation. “When he gets about that 8 to 10 feet away, I look down, I remember looking at my sights and firing, all I see is his head and that’s what I shot.”
Wilson said he wasn’t sure how many rounds he fired.
Wilson, 28, was one of several witnesses to testify before the grand jury during 25 sessions held from Aug. 20 to yesterday, when it completed its work. The announcement that Wilson wouldn’t be charged set off looting, arson and rock-throwing incidents in Ferguson and non-violent demonstrations in U.S. cities from New York to Los Angeles as President Barack Obama, along with Brown’s family and others, called on demonstrators to remain peaceful.
Some eyewitnesses said Brown was shot as he raised his hands in surrender.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said yesterday in announcing the grand jury’s decision that some witnesses changed their initial statements after physical evidence became available. That evidence supported Wilson’s version of the confrontation, the prosecutor said.
Brown’s blood was found inside Wilson’s vehicle and on the gun, which was fired twice in the car, McCulloch said.
The prosecutor said the grand jury heard testimony from numerous witnesses including three medical examiners, and experts on blood, DNA, toxicology, firearms and drug analysis. They also examined hundreds of photographs, he said.
Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, said in a phone interview that the prosecutor’s summary didn’t provide detail on why Wilson believed he needed to use lethal force.
“Why were those shots necessary?” Lightfoot asked. “That question was not answered. People are not going to feel satisfied until they understand what the evidence was and what reasonable conclusions could be drawn from that evidence.”
The grand jury began hearing evidence on Aug. 20, just 11 days after the shooting, following the first angry demonstrations and looting rocked the St. Louis suburb.
“Everybody knows why we’re here, so let’s just get to it,” deputy prosecutor Sheila Whirley told Wilson, when he gave his sworn testimony.
Wilson, who has been on administrative leave, told the grand jurors he was working a 12-hour day shift on Aug. 9, starting at 6:30 a.m. His otherwise quiet day was interrupted at about 11 a.m. by a report of a sick baby at a Ferguson apartment complex.
The child, who was feverish, was sent to a hospital with its mother, via ambulance, Wilson said. While he was there, he said, he heard a police radio report of a robbery at a nearby market.
“I didn’t hear the entire call,” Wilson said. “I was on my portable radio, which isn’t exactly the best. I did hear that a suspect was wearing a black shirt and that a box of Cigarillos was stolen.” Wilson said he wasn’t one of the initial officers dispatched in response to the report.
Dressed in his full police uniform and armed with a 13-shot Sig Sauer .40 caliber pistol on his right hip, a can of mace on his left, handcuffs and his police radio, Wilson said he left the apartment complex in a Chevy Tahoe SUV with police markings and light bar on the roof.
A short distance away, on Canfield Drive, he saw two men walking in the middle of the two-way road, where -- Wilson said -- they appeared to be impeding the flow of traffic.
“The next thing I noticed was the size of the individuals because either the first one was really small or the second one was really big,” Wilson said. He later learned the smaller one was Dorian Johnson and the larger was Michael Brown.
“I had never seen them before,” Wilson said.
The officer said he asked the men why they weren’t walking on the sidewalk. Johnson, according to Wilson, replied they were almost “to their destination.”
“Well, what’s wrong with the sidewalk?” Wilson persisted.
Brown responded with profanity, according to Wilson.
“It was a very unusual and not expected response from a simple request,” the officer said.
It was then that Wilson noticed Brown had a handful of Cigarillos.
“And that’s when it clicked for me,” he told the grand jury. “I did a double-check that Johnson was wearing a black shirt. These are the two from the stealing.”
Wilson said he radioed for a backup, put the Tahoe in reverse, backed past Brown and Johnson and angled the car in the street to “keep them somewhat contained.”
The officer said he called Brown over and, as he opened his car door, the teen challenged him and slammed Wilson’s door before the officer had moved from the vehicle.
Undeterred, Wilson said he used his door to shove Brown, using profanity to tell him to get back. Brown responded by shutting the officer back in his car and then ducking through its open window.
“His hands are up and he is coming in my vehicle,” Wilson said. He said Brown struck him in the face with his right hand, the same hand the officer said was holding the cigarillos.
Handing the cigars to Johnson, Brown struck Wilson again, prompting him to wonder, “What do I do to not get beaten inside my car,” he testified.
Shielding his face with his left hand and fearful of being blinded by his own mace, Wilson said he chose to draw his gun, warning Brown to stand back or be shot.
“He immediately grabs my gun,” Wilson said, adding that Brown used a vulgarity to tell him he thought the officer was too afraid to shoot.
“I felt another one of those punches in my face could knock me out or worse,” Wilson testified.
Wilson said he struggled with Brown over his gun. The officer testified he pulled the trigger twice and heard only a click. The third time, the gun fired into the door panel and glass went flying.
The officer said Brown, looking “like a demon” came toward him again, before he fired a second shot, sending the teen into retreat.
Wilson said he pursued Brown for a distance, then the teenager turned toward him. The officer recalled Brown taking a stutter-step toward him, balling his left fist and his right reaching under his shirt.
The officer said he ordered Brown to get down on the ground and that that directive was ignored.
“I shoot a series of shots,” Wilson said. “I don’t know how many I shot, I just know I shot it.” The initial fusillade didn’t stop Brown who got as close to him as 8-10 feet, the officer said.
It was, as Brown bent, seeming intent on tackling Wilson, the officer said, that the fatal shot or shots were fired.
“The demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone,” Wilson said.