Authorities in a St. Louis suburb torn by protests after a policeman shot and killed an unarmed black teenager identified the officer as Darren Wilson after keeping his name secret for a week.
The Ferguson police also released documents describing the victim, 18-year-old Michael Brown, as a suspect in a “strong-arm” robbery at a convenience store recorded by a security camera shortly before his death.
The robbery assertion angered some members of the mostly black community where tensions had begun to ease after Missouri Governor Jay Nixon ordered state troopers to take over security from local law enforcement.
“There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution-style murder” of the teen, Brown’s family said in a statement. “The police strategy of attempting to blame the victim will not divert our attention.”
Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson, a six-year veteran with no disciplinary record, had been alerted to the robbery but didn’t know Brown was a suspect. The officer confronted the teen and a friend “because they were walking down the middle of the street, blocking traffic,” Jackson said.
Police released surveillance video from a convenience store that appeared to show a man pick up a box at the counter and then shove a smaller man who tried to stop him from leaving. Police said a box of cigars was taken.
Minutes later, police said, Brown was confronted by Wilson and fought with the officer over his weapon. Residents said Brown was shot while raising his hands in surrender.
FBI agents have questioned witnesses to the shooting and will be canvassing the area for others, William Woods, the special agent in charge, said late yesterday in a statement. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is working with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he said.
Though 67 percent of Ferguson’s population is black, the city’s police force has just three black officers out of 53.
Days of protests following the teenager’s killing culminated in a confrontation between demonstrators and about 50 local police in military-style gear who pointed guns and fired tear gas into a crowd.
The changeover from local officers to the Missouri State Highway Patrol brought a sense of calm as troopers shook hands and chatted with residents on the streets.
“Our goal is to make sure the people of Ferguson have the right to speech, the right to gather, maintained,” said highway patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who is leading the force. “What happened last night is what’s going to happen here going forward.”
Nixon, a 58-year-old Democrat, said that the highway patrol is going to stay in Ferguson.
“There’s a lot of steps between now and when justice is served and there will be bumps along the way, there will be more tension,” Nixon said. “The focal point here remains to figure out how and why Michael Brown was killed and to get justice.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Toluse Olorunnipa in Ferguson, Missouri at firstname.lastname@example.org; Freeman Klopott in Albany at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at firstname.lastname@example.org Pete Young, Bret Okeson