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Darren Wilson to Grand Jury: 'I Had to Kill Him'

VICE News reviewed evidence and witness testimony presented to the grand jury in the case of Michael Brown and found many troubling details.

by Jason Leopold
Nov 25 2014, 11:50pm

Photo via Reuters/St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office

On August 9, minutes after police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in broad daylight on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri, he got on his police radio and requested a "supervisor and every car you have."

Brown lay in a pool of blood as Wilson began taping off the crime scene. According to court documents from Wilson's grand jury hearing, a couple of officers arrived seconds after the shooting and asked Wilson what he needed. The officer doesn't remember what he said in response, but he knows that he didn't call for an ambulance when asked. Instead, he had one of the other officers make the call.

Wilson walked back to his police cruiser. His sergeant pulled up and Wilson walked over to him.

"I have to tell you what happened," Wilson recalled telling his sergeant. "I said, 'I had to kill him.' He goes, 'You what?' I said, 'He grabbed my gun, I shot him, I killed him.'"

Wilson recalled his sergeant telling him to "go sit in the car." He refused the order, citing fear of attack by the angry crowds that were already forming on the surrounding sidewalks.

"I said, 'Sarge, I can't be singled out. It is already getting hostile, I can't be singled out in the car. I will leave if you want me to leave,' " Wilson said. "He said, 'Take my car and leave.' So I got in his car and I drove to the police station."

Wilson's full account of what took place that afternoon was finally revealed Monday night when transcripts of his testimony before a grand jury — a 12-person panel tasked with deciding whether the officer ought to face charges for the killing — were publicly released, along with more than 4,000 pages of eyewitness testimony, audio recordings, photos, and other evidence presented to the panel.

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The grand jury, made up of nine whites and three blacks, met over the course of three months and heard 70 hours of testimony from more than 60 witnesses. But it was Wilson's hours-long testimony that appears to have convinced the panel that the 28-year-old officer did not commit a crime.

VICE News closely reviewed the grand jury documents and found a number of inconsistencies between Wilson's testimony and his initial statements to a St. Louis County Police Department detective a day after the shooting.

More troublingly, prosecutors also appeared to interrogate witnesses about their various accounts of the shooting, asking whether they were pressured into repeating the familiar narrative that emerged in the days after the deadly encounter — that Brown had his hands up and was surrendering when he was shot.

Prosecutors particularly grilled witnesses who delivered this account, telling them their stories didn't line up with forensic evidence collected by investigators.

In his testimony, Wilson characterized the neighborhood where Brown lived as a "hostile environment" where "gangs reside" and "associate."

"There's a lot of violence in that area, there's a lot of gun activity, drug activity, it is just not a very well-liked community," the officer said. "That community doesn't like the police."

According to Wilson, seconds before he encountered Brown and the teen's friend Dorian Johnson on Canfield Drive in Ferguson, a radio call came in about a "stealing in progress from the local market on West Florissant." He said he heard that a suspect wearing a black shirt stole a box of cigarillos.

Wilson saw two men in the road "walking along the double yellow line single file." One of the things that stood out to him about the men was their size. "Either the first one was really small or the second one was really big," he said.

Wilson stands 6 feet 4 inches and weighs about 210 pounds. Brown was about 6 feet 5 inches and weighed 289 pounds, according to autopsy reports.

The next thing Wilson said he noticed were Brown's bright yellow socks, which "had green marijuana leaves as a pattern on them."

Wilson said he stopped his car and asked Brown and Johnson to walk on the sidewalk. But Johnson kept walking and responded, "we are almost to our destination."

At this point, the officer's story takes an odd turn. Wilson said that as Brown walked up to his driver's side door, Wilson asked, "What's wrong with the sidewalk?" — to which Brown responded, "Fuck what you have to say." 

Wilson said his attention was focused entirely on Brown.

"When I start looking at Brown, first thing I notice is in his right hand, his hand is full of cigarillos," Wilson testified. "And that's when it clicked for me because I now saw the cigarillos, I looked in my mirror, I did a double check that Johnson was wearing a black shirt, these are the two from the stealing."

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The testimony conflicts with Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson's public statements in August, in which he said Wilson did not know that Brown was a suspect in the theft.

Wilson said he got on his radio and called for another police car, then put his cruiser in reverse and "backed up just past [Brown and Johnson] and then angled my vehicle, the back of my vehicle to kind of cut them off kind of to keep them somewhat contained."

Wilson said that as he tried to open his door to confront Brown, the teenager "turns, faces me, looks at me and says, 'What the fuck are you going to do about it,' and shuts my door, slammed it shut."

The officer said Brown just stared at him "almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me. The intense face he had was just not what I expected from any of this."

According to Wilson, Brown, who had allegedly just stolen a box of cigars from a convenience store, then decided to assault a uniformed police officer.

Wilson said that Brown — still holding the cigarillos — stuck his head in the police car and punched him on the side of his face. Wilson told the St. Louis Police Department detective that Brown struck him about 10 times. He told the grand jury that Brown hit him twice.

Wilson said Brown then asked Johnson to hold the cigarillos and continued grappling with him.

"And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan… that's just how big he felt and how small I felt just from grasping his arm," Wilson said.

Wilson said that he considered using his mace, but he didn't want to free up his left hand, which he said he used to cover his face. He also recalled thinking about grabbing his police baton or his flashlight, but didn't think either of these would be "effective." He described fearing that any more blows from Brown would "knock me out." Wilson's medical record from the emergency room that treated his injuries later that afternoon described bruising on his face.

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"So the only other option I thought I had was my gun," Wilson said. "I drew my gun, I turned. It is kind of hard to describe it, I turn and I go like this. He is standing here. I said, 'Get back or I'm going to shoot you.' He immediately grabs my gun and says, 'You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.' "

Wilson described Brown grabbing his weapon — a Sig Sauer .40 caliber handgun.

"I can feel his fingers try to get inside the trigger guard with my finger and I distinctly remember envisioning a bullet going into my leg," he told the grand jury.

The officer said that he finally gained control of his gun, pointed it at Brown, and pulled the trigger twice. It just "clicked," Wilson said.

Wilson told the grand jury that prior to shooting Brown, he had never used his gun in the line of duty.

"At this point I'm like why isn't this working, this guy is going to kill me if he gets ahold of this gun," Wilson said. "I pulled it [the trigger] a third time, it goes off. When it went off, it shot through my door panel and my window was down and glass flew out of my door panel. I think that kind of startled him and me at the same time."

Wilson said Brown then stepped back and looked at him with "the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that's how angry he looked."

The officer testified that Brown attacked a second time, so he pulled the trigger once more. Wilson said the gun "clicked" again.

It's official: Ferguson officer Darren Wilson will not face charges for killing Michael Brown

Brown took off running down Canfield Drive, leaving "a cloud of dust behind him," according to Wilson. The officer called for backup. With Wilson chasing after him, Brown — according to the officer's testimony — suddenly stopped in his tracks, turned, and made a "grunting sound." The officer said Brown charged toward him, made a fist with his left hand, and reached "under his shirt" with his right hand.

Wilson said he told Brown to "get on the ground," but the teen continued running toward him. Wilson then fired nearly a dozen rounds at Brown.

"At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I'm shooting at him," Wilson said. "And the face that he had was looking straight through me, like I wasn't even there, I wasn't even anything in his way."

Wilson said he saw one of the last bullets he fired at Brown "go into him."

"And then when it went into him, the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone, it was gone, I mean, I knew he stopped, the threat was stopped," Wilson said. "When he fell, he fell on his face."

Much of what Wilson recounted for the grand jury was omitted from his interview with the police detective.

He did not tell the detective that he saw Brown carrying a box of cigarillos, nor did he disclose to the detective that he suspected that Brown was a suspect in the theft. Wilson also did not say that he feared that Brown's punches would knock him out or kill him. 

***

Wilson's account differs dramatically from some eyewitness testimony. Robert McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney in the case, said Monday that the discrepancies were due to the fact that witnesses changed their version of events as new details of the case became public.

Indeed, a witness who filmed the aftermath of the shooting and then called into a radio show to discuss it said that he saw Wilson shoot Brown in the back. When interviewed by a detective and an FBI agent earlier this month, the same witness said that he didn't see Wilson shoot Brown.

During a 30-minute live news conference announcing the grand jury's decision, McCulloch lashed out at the media "and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about, following closely behind with the non-stop rumors on social media."

McCulloch took the unusual step of presenting all possible evidence in the case to the grand jury, rather than just evidence that could establish probable cause for an indictment, as is often standard procedure in such proceedings. Legal experts have condemned this decision.

David Alan Sklansky, a professor at Stanford University Law School, told VICE News that he was troubled by McCulloch's public statements about the case, particularly the prosecutor's attempts to lay the lack of an indictment on the grand jury.

Prosecutors "rarely have trouble getting an indictment from a grand jury if they want an indictment," Sklansky said. "It is wrong to view the grand jury making a decision here unguided by the prosecutor. It's the prosecutor that has to decide how to present the case."

Sklansky added that he understands why people are now questioning the integrity of the grand jury proceedings.

"You want to have some assurances that the evidence was weighed carefully and impartially," he said. "I don't think [McCulloch's] comments reflect that it was. The prosecutor's office acted in ways that there are reasonable grounds for people to be concerned."

Some witnesses told the grand jury that Brown appeared to be surrendering before Wilson shot him. Some witnesses also said that Brown was walking toward Wilson, not bull-rushing him.

One witness went so far as to tell police that Brown was "executed," and that Wilson "made up his mind he was going to kill him." That witness told federal investigators, according to transcripts of the testimony, that Brown was "defenseless, hands up, he was trying to stay on his feet and you could see that his knees was beginning to buckle and he was going down."

Another witness testified that Brown had a "hand up in the air and was, it looked like he was going to a knee or on one knee. [I] think he was going down to his second knee and he was from that point is when I seen him get shot and seen his head like jerk back and I seen him do that like three times and that's when he just fell face first."

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A resident of the Canfield Green apartments who is described as being near-sighted first observed Wilson backing his car into Brown and Johnson's path. The witness was closest to the driver's side of the vehicle, and subsequently observed a struggle between Wilson and Brown in the window of the officer's car.

Just seconds later, the witness said they heard a gunshot that caught people's attention. "The officer was still in the car. Michael Brown was still in the window when I heard the first shot," the witness testified.

After the initial shot, the witness told the grand jury that Brown's hands were in the car and then he backed up, looking down at himself, "like, trying to check hisself making sure he wasn't hurt or anything."

The witness told jurors that Brown "made a couple little steps like a quick sprint, nothing more than like five to seven steps" away from Wilson.

"He didn't get that far," the witness went on. "And then he turned around, the officer had the gun pointed at him and then you just heard the rest of the shots."

The witness said Brown's hands were up in the air at ear level with his palms facing forward, and testified to hearing six shots in total. The person said that they did not see Brown charging toward Wilson.

The same witness also testified that a Canfield Green tenant — described as a 20-something female — was near the scene of the incident and began recording the encounter moments after Wilson exited the car. According to this witness, a Ferguson police officer took the phone away from the woman.

One bizarre piece of evidence submitted to the grand jury is a four-page journal entry dated August 9 from an unnamed witness who saw the shooting. The witness seems to casually admit to being a racist.

"Well I am gonna take my random drive to Florisant [sic]," the witness wrote. "Need to understand the black race better so I stop calling Blacks Niggers and start calling them People. Like dad always said you can't fear or hate an entire race cause of what one man did 40 yrs ago."

At 4pm, the witness penned another entry. The witness described stopping at a Ferguson apartment complex to ask for directions, hearing "a weird noise," and seeing a cop "backing up."

"I couldn't hear but they was the same kids I almost hit with car," the witness wrote. "A big one + a skinny one. The cop tried getting out + the big one hit the door the cop looked pissed + tried opening door again. The big one is half in the window/door can't remember I swear the little one had the cops leg. The big kid hit the door with his gut + the little one punch the mirror [something] gold fell on the ground."

The witness then described in the journal how Wilson got out of his police car, "left hand on face, right hand on gun," and yelled something indecipherable at Brown. The witness said Brown ran at Wilson "like a football player. Head down."

"I heard 3 bangs but the big kid wouldn't stop," the witness wrote. "I heard cop say something but not sure what or if he was just making noise. Cop took a couple of steps forward then backwards and the gun went off 2 more times. The last one on the top of the kids head. OMG the blood… "

This wasn't the only witness to cast Brown as the aggressor and corroborate most of Wilson's account.

"You seen the officer hop out of his cruiser and he is running behind and he's yelling stop," one witness recalled. "Then Michael turned around and started charging towards the officer and the officer yelling stop. He did have his firearm drawn, but he was yelling stop, stop, stop. He didn't so he started shooting him."

In testimony delivered to the grand jury on November 3, the same witness said they too would have shot Brown "if he was charging at me like that."

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.

Wilson could still face charges in a separate federal civil rights investigation. On Monday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department probe is ongoing and "has been independent of the local one from the start."

"Even at this mature stage of the investigation, we have avoided prejudging any of the evidence," Holder said. "And although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions."

VICE News reporters Andrew Glazer, Ben Bryant, Caroline Pahl, and Kayla Ruble contributed to this report.

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold