What Really Happened In Ferguson On Aug. 9? The Facts Remain Unclear


We still do not know exactly what happened in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, writes St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan. The key moment in the confrontation between Brown and Officer Darren Wilson might have occurred at the police car. A shot was fired from inside the vehicle and hit the panel or floorboard. Did the gun misfire as Wilson took it from its holster? Did Brown see Wilson drawing his gun and try to knock it away? Did Brown struggle and try to take the gun from Wilson? It's a relatively safe bet that Wilson told the grand jury that Brown tried to take the gun away. According to the witnesses who have talked to the media, the fatal shots were fired well away from the police vehicle. A construction worker said he heard a shot and then saw Brown running with Wilson in pursuit. During the pursuit, Wilson fired, the worker said. A police officer can shoot at a fleeing suspect only if the officer “has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or others.”

Stealing cigars and roughly shoving a clerk probably would not meet that standard. Assaulting and trying to disarm an officer probably would. The construction worker said that after a shot was fired, Brown stumbled, turned around, put his arms up and said, “OK. OK. OK.” The worker said Brown began walking back toward Wilson, who then began firing, backing up as he did so. There is no justification for shooting a man who is trying to surrender, unless you don't know he's trying to surrender. Perhaps all Wilson knew was that Brown was coming at him. The fact that Wilson was backing up as he was firing would seem consistent with a frightened man firing in self-defense. “I can't tell you what the other witnesses claim to have seen because the county police have released almost no information,” McClellan says. “Forget the public's right to know. We might as well be in North Korea.”

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