A St. Louis County, Mo., grand jury has declined to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown, 18, during a confrontation on August 9, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced Monday night.
In an address to the nation following the grand jury decision–even as angry protesters took to the streets—President Barack Obama called for both restraint and understanding of the underlying issues presented by the Ferguson case.
“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation,” the President said. “In too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.”
McCulloch said the grand jury decision was based on a three-month-long examination of witnesses’ statements and physical evidence. A key point apparently was witness testimony that Brown had charged at Wilson before the shooting.
The prosecutor said it “doesn’t lessen the tragedy” that no charges are being filed.
The incident, which involved a white police officer shooting a black teenager, prompted weeks of protests in Ferguson and throughout the U.S. hat highlighted longstanding tensions between local St. Louis County police departments and the area’s black communities.
Brown’s family members said they were “profoundly disappointed” by the outcome, but in a statement later they called on protesters to refrain from violence.
McCulloch said, “My heart goes out to them.”
McCulloch had the authority to charge Wilson without giving the case to a grand jury, but chose instead to present evidence to 12 jurors starting within two weeks of the shooting.
At issue in the case was whether Wilson broke Missouri law in shooting Brown. The state gives police officers broad power to use force to make an arrest or prevent a felon's escape.
In a lengthy presentation to the media, McCulloch reviewed conflicting and incomplete accounts of witnesses. He promised to release the full testimony presented to the grand jury but he would not discuss details of the jury’s deliberations, except to say that it was a “very emotional process” for jury members. “
They poured their hearts and souls into this,” he said.
McCulloch urged demonstrators to protest in a “constructive way… not a destructive way” with the aim that incidents like this one do not happen again.
In Missouri, grand juries include 12 jurors, and the votes of at least nine are required for indictment, also known as “true bill.” Grand jury proceedings are kept secret while prosecutors present their cases. St. Louis Public Radio published a lengthy explanation of the rules involving Missouri grand juries and an examination of whether the evidence they hear can be made public.
McCulloch said a federal investigation of whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights is continuing, although there have been media reports that it, too, is unlikely to result in criminal charges.
McCulloch said the grand jury was presented with five potential indictments, ranging from murder in the first degree to involuntary manslaughter.
“They determined that no probable cause exists to file a charge,” McCulloch said.
Brown’s family released a statement through attorney Benjamin Crump.
“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” they said. “While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
In his statement, Obama declared:”This is not just an issue for Ferguson; this is an issue for America,” noting that many people believe that the law is administered in a discriminatory way in the United States.
He urged those who disagree with the grand jury decision not to vandalize property but to engage in peaceful protests. “There’s never an excuse for violence,” the president said, calling the case’s outcome “an opportunity to turn this into a positive situation.”