Ferguson Grand Jury Testimony Made Public
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We've been reporting this morning about the violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Last night, at least a dozen buildings were set on fire as police and rioters had running battles in the streets of Ferguson. And several flights were diverted from the St. Louis airport after shots were reportedly fired into the sky.
MONTAGNE: The protesters had been tense, waiting to hear whether a grand jury would indict Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown last summer. And when the announcement came that the grand jury had voted not to charge Wilson with a crime, peaceful protests eventually turned violent. At the same time, the St. Louis County prosecutor released all records of the grand jury's proceedings. NPR's Elise Hu is in St. Louis. She's been looking over these documents and joins us to talk about it. Good morning.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Now, what are the key things that you're seeing there?
HU: Well, there's a lot of stuff in here; Michael Brown's official autopsy report, the transcript of interviews and testimony of Darren Wilson, along with many witnesses, the records of Wilson's medical examination after he killed Brown, including some photos of bruising on the side of Wilson's cheek and neck. There's also crime scene analysis. It's all in there in huge files released last night.
MONTAGNE: The basic story, by now, is known. There was a struggle that ended with Darren Wilson shooting and killing Michael Brown. Does Wilson's version of the incident, as he told it to the grand jury, have any surprises?
HU: We're learning a lot of details we just didn't have access to before. Wilson said he stopped Brown because he suspected him of robbery earlier in the day, but in August the Ferguson police chief said the opposite. He said Wilson didn't know about a robbery and stopped him for other reasons. Wilson then describes being fearful of Michael Brown and that he, quote, "felt like a 5-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan." But for context, Brown was 6-feet-5 and 280 lbs when he died, while Darren Wilson is in his 6-foot-4 and 210 lbs.
Now, this struggle began with Wilson inside his squad car, and he describes Brown's hands as all over him through the open window and says Brown actually landed at least two punches on him. Then Wilson says he reached for his gun and pulled the trigger, but when he did the first two times, nothing happened. It was actually the third pull of the trigger when the gun fired, which he says scared both him and Brown. And after the initial shots, Wilson says Brown runs away from the car and, as has been reported, Wilson filed fired several more shots and that fatal shot to Brown's head after getting out of his car when Brown was facing him several feet away.
MONTAGNE: And of course there are thousands of pages in that document that you have there, Elise. Beyond what you've just told us, what else are you finding?
HU: Yeah. We're still combing through, but of course lots of eyewitness testimony in there and curious little details. For instance, the medical examiner testified that he didn't take photos of Michael Brown's body because his camera battery died. And Darren Wilson described Brown as looking like a, quote, "demon." Wilson also explains he didn't have a Taser on him because there's only one Taser in the police department, and he found wearing it to be uncomfortable. Tasers of course are handheld devices that are used to subdue a person with nonlethal electric shock. Wilson also says he did have a baton, but found reaching for it to be too difficult in those moments in the car.
MONTAGNE: And, Elise, how likely is it that this police officer, Darren Wilson, will face federal civil rights charges or civil charges?
HU: Well, there's this separate and ongoing federal civil rights investigation led by the Justice Department. Attorney General Eric Holder actually put out a statement Monday night reminding folks that this federal inquiry is independent and has been independent from the local one from the start. But there is a high legal bar to meet in these types of cases.
MONTAGNE: Elise, thanks very much.
HU: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Elise Hu reporting on the release of the grand jury report in the death of Michael Brown. She is in St. Louis. And you can read all the grand jury documents at npr.org.
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