St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced Monday that Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who fatally shot unarmed teen Michael Brown in August, will not be charged with a crime in connection with the incident.
The case — which has generated intense media scrutiny and raised questions nationwide about police use of deadly force — was reviewed by a 12-person grand jury, which decided not to indict Wilson for his role in Brown's death. The grand jury was composed of nine white and three black members. In a lengthy press conference announcing the charges and the evidence heard by the grand jury, McCulloch said he would not reveal how the individual jurors voted.
The grand jury found that "no probable cause exists" to file any indictments against Wilson, McCulloch said.
"From the onset, we have maintained and the grand jury agreed that Officer Wilson's actions on August 9 were in accordance with the laws and regulations that govern the procedures of an officer," Wilson's attorneys said in a statement shortly after the decision was announced.
"Law enforcement personnel must frequently make split-second and difficult decisions," the statement added. "Officer Wilson followed his training and followed the law."
Wilson could have faced any one of several possible charges, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter. The grand jury also had the option of adding a charge of armed criminal action.
The Brown family issued a statement Monday night saying, "we are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions."
The family asked that others channel their frustration in ways to make positive change, saying, "we need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen." As they have requested in previous statements, the family asked that protesters keep demonstrations peaceful.
Despite the shroud of secrecy, details about the grand jury proceeding have steadily leaked to the media in recent weeks, with many reports indicating that Wilson was unlikely to be charged.
According to various reports and witness statements, Wilson and Brown got into a physical confrontation in or near the officer's car on the afternoon of August 9, leading Wilson to fire at least two shots at close range, hitting Brown once. Wilson then exited his vehicle and fired at least six more rounds at Brown from a distance. Some witnesses have said Brown had his hands up in surrender when the fatal shots were fired. McCulloch stressed that the jurors are, as of now, "the only ones who have heard all the evidence."
McCulloch promised to release documents and other materials — including audio and photos — that were presented to the grand jury.
In a live press conference that spanned more than 30 minutes, McCulloch stressed the importance of physical evidence in the case, noting that various witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the shooting, sometimes changing their version of events as new details of the case became public. He said that nearly all witness interviews had been recorded and presented to the jury, and that all evidence in the case has been shared by local and federal agencies.
"The grand jury's decision does not negate the fact that Michael Brown's tragic death is part of an alarming national trend of officers using excessive force against people of color, often during routine encounters," Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said in a statement. "Yet in most cases, the officers and police departments are not held accountable. While many officers carry out their jobs with respect for the communities they serve, we must confront the profound disconnect and disrespect that many communities of color experience with their local law enforcement."
The killing brought simmering racial tensions in the community — which is predominantly black and policed by a majority white force — to a boil. Violent protests in the weeks after the shooting, with looters raiding stores and torching a gas station, and the militarized police response hurled the town into the national spotlight. Residents have continued to fill the streets to voice their outrage in the weeks and months since, with police periodically cracking down by making arrests and using tear gas and rubber bullets.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the state's National Guard last week in anticipation of more unrest following the announcement of the grand jury's decision. Authorities have also erected barriers near the St. Louis County Courthouse and in downtown Ferguson to help control the expected protests.
Two federal civil rights investigations in connection with the case are still ongoing, with the FBI looking at Brown's shooting and the Department of Justice examining the local police department's treatment of minorities.
Wilson and the Ferguson police department could still face civil lawsuits from Brown's family.
President Barack Obama previously urged restraint by both the public and the police in response to the grand jury's decision, and Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr., has said "hurting others or destroying property is not the answer."
Tensions were already running high in Ferguson ahead of the announcement of the grand jury's decision.
A man wearing a black hoodie emblazoned with the words "I Am Michael Brown" paced in circles around a memorial for the fallen teenager, threatening violence.
"It ain't safe down here for white people," the man said. "If y'all say he ain't guilty, then I'm killing somebody."
Several businesses on West Florissant Avenue, the main drag in Ferguson, were boarded up to prevent looting. JB Bransford, 15, said that the wood would not make a difference if Wilson was declared innocent.
"If they say he ain't guilty, we're breaking through that wood," Bransford said. "We got chainsaws down here."
In a statement put out shortly before the grand jury announcement, St. Louis County Chief of Police Jon Belmar said the safety of St. Louis residents is the primary concern of his department. According to Belmar, in preparation for the announcement, police commanders had met 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."
At a press conference Monday evening, just hours ahead of the announcement, the governor called for peaceful protests regardless of the grand jury's decision, saying the world would be watching. At the time, Nixon told reporters he had not yet been informed of the grand jury's decision, but asked for both sides to show "tolerance, mutual respect and restraint."
"Together we are all focused on making sure the necessary resources are at hand to protect lives, protect property, and protect free speech," Nixon said.
At the same press conference, St. Louis County executive Charlie Dooley asked people to think with their heads, instead of their emotions, saying "now is the time to show the world that we can act without being destructive."
"I do not want people in this community to think they have to barricade their doors and take up arms," Dooley added.
Obama issued a statement following McCulloch's announcement.
"In too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color," Obama said. "We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson. This is an issue for America."
VICE News reporters Meredith Hoffman and Nicholas Phillips contributed to this report.