WASHINGTON, August 22, 2014 — The fate of Darren Wilson over the shooting of Michael Brown is now in the hands of a grand jury.
Although these 12 people will not decide whether Officer Wilson goes to jail or not, they will decide if it remains a possibility.
The prosecutor will present all of the evidence from the case — including autopsy reports, eye witness accounts and evidence collected at the scene — to the grand jury, which will decide if the evidence warrants an indictment and a trial. If the grand jury decides that there is not enough evidence to move forward, the criminal case will end there.
Officer Wilson’s freedom depends on the evidence presented to the grand jury.
The evidence so far released to the public is confusing. It is difficult to speculate what the grand jury will decide since there are so many different accounts of what happened on the afternoon of August 9. But there is consensus on the events on that day up to a point.
Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson went to into a store and committed what is called a “strong arm” robbery from a convenience store where they took cigarillos or small cigars.
Officer Darren Wilson was heading in the direction of that store when he came across two young men walking down the middle of a residential street and told them to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk.
That is when the agreement ends.
Between the media and police reports, dozens of witnesses are claiming to have seen the shooting but all of these accounts can be boiled down to two sides.
Dorian Johnson’s story
After the death of Michael brown, Dorian Johnson was all over the major networks telling his side of the story.
Johnson says that when he and Brown did not get out of the street, a brief argument between the three men erupted. The officer started to drive off but then he backed up and quickly opened his car door, hitting Brown with the door causing it to slam closed again.
Wilson them reached out of his window and grabbed Brown somewhere around his neck area and tried to pull Brown into the patrol car.
Wilson then drew his weapon and threatened to shoot the pedestrians. Then he shot and hit Brown in the arm.
The two friends started running and the officer exited the car with his weapon raised.
Johnson ran behind a car for protection but Brown continued down the middle of the street.
When he was about 25 feet away, Brown turned with his hands up and told the police officer that he was unarmed.
At this point Officer Wilson shot five times, killing Michael Brown.
Piaget Crenshaw and her friend Tiffany Mitchell reported a similar account, except that Brown was running away when he was shot.
There are a few aspects of this story that will be dismissed right away, either due to the limited evidence that has been released or implausibility.
The autopsy reports show that all shots struck Brown in the front of his body, so he could not have been running away when shot. Also, it would be impossible for Wilson to reach out of his window and grab the 6 ft 4 inch Brown around the top of his body; his arms simply would not be long enough. Finally, attempting to pull 300 lb Brown through a car window with one hand while sitting would simply defy the laws of physics.
Much of Johnson’s account may be disregarded; if he was crouched behind a car, he would be unable to see what was happening in the street.
If the rest of the story is supported by evidence, Wilson will be held over for trial. There is no legal justification to shooting someone who is clearly unarmed, with hands up standing still.
Surprisingly, there is a scenario where Brown could have been shot while leaving that would allow Wilson to walk free. If the grand jury or ultimately a regular jury, believes that the robbery committed by Brown was a violent felony and that Wilson realized that Brown was a suspect because he was still holding the cigars, then it would be legally justified to shoot Brown if he was “getting away”.
The court ruled in Tennessee v. Garner that an officer can shoot a suspect fleeing a violent felony, but only a violent felony.
A caller into a radio station who only identified herself as “Josie,” a friend of Darren Wilson’s, was the first person to tell the officer’s side of the story.
Wilson’s story is that after he pulled up to Brown and Johnson, an argument broke out and Brown reached in through the car widow and punched the officer in the face. During this altercation, Johnson reached into the car and tried to take the officer’s sidearm.
During the struggle a gunshot went off, causing the young men to panic and run.
While they were running, the officer exited the car with his weapon drawn and ordered the friends to stop; they did.
Brown turned and started yelling and swearing at the officer and then he charged. Officer Wilson shot and continued shooting because Brown continued coming.
Wilson reportedly told his friend that he wondered if Brown was under the influence of something because it was “unbelievable” the way he kept coming.
If the evidence support’s Wilson’s version of events, he will be no-billed.
In principle this story could be easy to prove. Was there a bullet inside the police car?
An autopsy report showed marijuana in Brown’s system, but that drug certainly would not account for continuing to charge with five bullets inside him, one in the head. Drugs like PCP or bath salts might have produced that result. Are there any traces of those in Brown’s body?
According to Graham v. Connor, it is justified for an officer to shoot a suspect if the officer reasonably feels threatened. The threat does not have to be real, just perceived. For instance, if someone is holding a toy gun that officers believe is real, they are permitted to respond as if it were real.
Wilson apparently had a swollen face, corroborating evidence that he was struck by Brown. This act could certainly cause him to feel threatened by Brown.
In order to walk away clean, Wilson needs to have felt threatened by Brown up until that last shot was fired. Legally, the second the threat is removed is the second the officer needs to stop shooting, which is why he needs Brown to be rushing him until the last shot.
Forensic evidence may be able to show whether Brown was moving forward or standing still when shot.
A St. Louis rock radio station is reporting that during Dorian Johnson’s official statement to the police, he changed his story and admitted Brown attacked the officer and tried to take his gun; this report has not been confirmed.
It could take two months before the grand jury to return with its decision.