By Brandie Piper
CLAYTON, Mo. – Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, will not face criminal charges, the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office announced Monday.
Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, screamed and sobbed as the decision was announced.
Violent protesters gathered outside of the Ferguson Police Department Monday night, where a police car was sent on fire. Police say shots were fired.
The FAA imposed a temporary flight restriction for all flights into St. Louis, Lambert Airport spokesman Jeff Lea said.
A University City police officer was shot amid protests near the intersection of Canton and Lamb avenues.
In the hours following the announcement, protesters marched onto Interstate 44 near Kingshighway and proceeded to block the roadway in an act of civil disobedience. The protesters blocked a few vehicles for an undisclosed amount of time before getting up and walking toward the on-ramp to leave the interstate. A few protesters even waved the vehicles along, signaling to the drivers that it was okay to pass.
McCulloch said the grand jury met 25 times, heard from 60 witnesses and listed to approximately 70 hours of testimony. They heard from three medical examiners and experts on blood, DNA, firearms, and more.
McCulloch said many witnesses had statements that conflicted with physical evidence and one another’s statements. Some admitted they didn’t actually see the shooting.
“The duty of the grand jury is to separate fact from fiction,” said McCulloch, noting jurors were “extremely engaged” in the process.
Three separate autopsies were conducted on Michael Brown, and McCulloch says the findings were consistent between all three.
Twelve rounds were fired by Wilson, McCulloch said, and most witnesses said shots were fired as Brown moved toward Wilson. He said the autopsies found no gunshot wounds to the back of Brown.
The grand jury was presented with five indictments. They had to determine probable cause in order to indict Wilson on any charge. McCulloch said the grand jury had to consider if Wilson was the initial aggressor or if he was authorized to use deadly force, or acted in self-defense.
In his testimony to the grand jury, Officer Darren Wilson said he typically does not carry a Taser on him.
“We only have a select amount,” Wilson said. “Usually there is one available, but I usually elect not to carry one. It is not the most comfortable thing. They are very large; I don’t have a lot of room in the front for it to be positioned.”
Wilson said he’s trained to use a Taser and believed he’s used one before. The Ferguson police officer said he was carrying his .40 caliber pistol and mace on August 9.
Wilson penned a letter to his supporters, which was released to the public after the announcement.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” Brown’s family said in a statement. “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.”
A crowd of approximately 150 people gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department several hours ahead of the announcement.
Immediately following the announcement, the St. Louis County Police Department tweeted they were responding to reports of looting along S. Florissant Road, just south of the Ferguson Police Department.
At least 25 buildings were set on fire Monday night, including a car dealership where approximately 10 cars were burned.
The Little Caesars Pizza in the 200 block of N. Florissant Avenue was set on fire, police said. A Walgreen’s and Dollar Tree were looted. A voter registration building in the area and a McDonald’s restaurant were also torched.
“What I’ve seen tonight is probably much worse than the worst night we saw a couple of months ago,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said.
Police arrested a small number of would-be looters at the Toys ‘R’ Us on W. Florissant Avenue later that night.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar says the safety of citizens following the announcement is the top priority.
“As a police department, our primary responsibility is to protect both life and property for our citizens, and we are committed to doing just that. St. Louis Metropolitan Chief of Police Sam Dotson, Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, and I, have prepared extensively as a Unified Command, for the release of the grand jury decision. Our commanders have been meeting with local community officials and protest leaders to help ensure preservation of life, property, and that all citizens’ enjoy the freedom to express their constitutional rights.”
Reactions to the decision have been rolling in to NewsChannel 5. You can read them here.
Gov. Jay Nixon held a news conference ahead of the announcement, urging for calm.
“Together we are all focused on making sure the necessary resources are on hand to protect lives, protect property and protect free speech,” he said.
“It’s going to be a long night for all of us. We’re praying that our spouses come home safely and for peace in our city,” Hope Jones, spokeswoman for the St. Louis Police Wives Association, said.
NewsChannel 5’s Blayne Alexander obtained a letter sent to Canfield Green residents from the management urging for peace, and encouraging residents to stay inside or visit family and friends in the hours following the announcement.
“Please make sure that your children are in a safe place and do not get put in harm’s way,” the email reads.
A spokesperson for QuikTrip says the company has voluntarily closed four locations in and around Ferguson ahead of the announcement as a precaution.
NewsChannel 5’s Casey Nolen said about 12 businesses in Clayton boarded up and closed Monday afternoon, while others were boarded up yet still open. Street crews closed the road leading to the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in the hours leading up to the announcement.
The Galleria and Plaza Frontenac malls closed at 6 p.m., but the South County Mall, West County Mall, St. Clair Square and Chesterfield malls remained open for normal business hours.
The grand jury started hearing evidence in the case less than two weeks after Brown’s death Aug. 9. The grand jury’s term originally convened in May, and was scheduled to end in early September, but because the jurors were still hearing evidence, the term was extended until January 2015.
In order to come to a decision, nine of the 12 jurors must agree. In August, NewsChannel 5 learned nine of the jurors are white, and three are black. Seven of them are male, five are female. Their identities are not expected to ever be released.
On Oct. 1, a tweet sent from someone claiming to have inside knowledge of grand jury talks sparked an investigation by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. The woman who owns the account from which the tweet was sent told CNN her Twitter account was hacked.
In October, specific testimony presented to the grand jury was leaked to media outlets around the country, including information about the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s autopsy on Brown’s body, and testimony from several black witnesses who supported Wilson’s account of what happened.
An investigation ultimately determined grand jury members were not responsible for the leaks. The Department of Justice also denied leaking information.
In the days following Brown’s death, protesters took to the streets of Ferguson demanding justice. At times there was rioting, violence, and looting. Dozens of people were arrested, and at times tear gas was used on protesters.
Initially, Wilson’s name was not going to be released unless charges were filed. That changed on Aug. 15, when Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson identified Wilson as the officer in a news conference held at the QuikTrip that was set on fire during the riots earlier in the week. Jackson also released surveillance videos, photos, and a report about a strong-armed robbery that happened minutes before the Brown’s death.
On Aug. 18, Nixon called in the Missouri National Guard after protests became increasingly violent. The night before, St. Louis County police said some protesters had thrown Molotov cocktails at officers, but a protester USA Today spoke with denied that claim.
Preparations for an announcement have been ongoing for several weeks. On Nov. 17, Gov. Jay Nixon signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency and activated the Missouri National Guard. The order will expire Dec. 17.
Some businesses in the community began boarding up windows days in advance in an effort to prevent the vandalism and looting that occurred in the days following Brown’s death. Others, like the Ferguson Burger Bar, opted to stay visible.
Wilson is a six-year veteran of the police force. Jackson says he has never had any disciplinary action while a member of his department. He was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting and has been staying at an undisclosed location.
Contributing: Kevin S. Held and Joanie Vasiliadis.