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Ferguson Police Release Name Of Officer Who Killed Michael Brown; Robbery Tape Spurs Controversy

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 4:00 p.m.

The chief of the Ferguson Police Department Friday morning released the name of the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown last Saturday. 

At the same time, the department also released documents showing that Brown was a suspect in a “strong-armed” robbery– a revelation that incensed protestors who are already upset over the 18-year-old African American’s death.

Later in the afternoon, the police chief held another press conference saying the officer who shot Brown did not know when he first encountered Brown that he was a suspect in a robbery. Some Tweets from other media outlets have suggested the officer made the connection after he stopped Brown.

At the morning press conference, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson revealed that Darren Wilson was the officer who killed Brown, a recent graduate of Normandy High School. Jackson said Wilson is a six-year veteran of the suburban St. Louis police department.

“[Wilson’s] had no disciplinary action taken against him,” said Jackson, who made the announcement in front of a gas station that burned down after Brown was killed. “He was treated for injuries that occurred on Saturday.”

The concealment of Wilson’s identity had been heavily criticized. Some – including St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley – wondered why the officer’s name was being hidden, but those charged with looting were being widely publicized.

Florissant resident Jesse Harris – who was on hand for Jackson’s press conference – said the release was too little, too late.

“It would have been comforting the first day,” Harris said. “I feel like it’s a little late right now. And more needs to be done. He needs to be arrested and charged with first-degree murder.”

Jean Maneke, a lawyer who specializes in governmental transparency, said earlier this week that releasing the officer’s name would have basic example of accountability.

“You’ve got some credibility issues here,” Maneke said. “And I think everybody is concerned about this being fully transparent so that there’s some belief that law enforcement is doing what they’re supposed to be doing in this investigation. I think the longer that they close information that they could make public on this, the more it harms their credibility.” 

Incident report sparks outrage

Soon after the press conference was over, Ferguson Police officials gave members of the press documents indicating that Brown was a suspect in a robbery of a convenience store. (Click here to read the full report.)

An incident report stated that Brown got into a confrontation with a clerk over “Swisher Sweet” cigars. It said Brown grabbed the unidentified clerk by the shirt and pushed him against a display rack before exiting the store.

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Tatinisha Wheeler was incensed after Ferguson Police's press conference.

Jackson didn’t take any questions this morning about why he decided to release the name and the incident report. The package of documents did not include any information about shooting. And numerous people on social media questioned whether the man in question was actually Brown, contending that he was wearing different clothes on that day.

Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who now is overseeing police operations in Ferguson, said he had been caught unaware when TV news shows early Friday showed video allegedly showing Brown’s involvement in a convenience-story robbery shortly before the teenager was shot by police.

Johnson had not been alerted that the video would be released, and made it clear to reporters that he was upset with Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.  After the two talked, Jackson publicly apologized for not first talking to Johnson.

Family reaction

The release of the information also was harshly criticized by Anthony Gray, the attorney who is representing Brown’s parents.He told the Associated Press that his clients were "incensed" by "the old game of smoke and mirrors."Gray also said the family was blind-sided by Friday's announcement.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, the family's attorney called it an "assassination of character" and said that nothing released would justify the "execution style murder" of their son. Eric Davis, a cousin of Michael Brown's mother, said that no matter what actually  happened at the convenience store, what horrifies the family is that Brown had his hands up in the universal sign of surrender when he was shot by Wilson.

Both Davis and Gray repeatedly requested that people not respond to the day's revelations with anything other than peaceful protests. Gary said he wants today's gatherings and rallies to be as peaceful as things were Thursday night.

"Do not take the bait from anyone who is trying to character assassinate Mike," he said.

When asked if Brown's family was frustrated by the pace of the investigation into Brown's death, Gray said the mother is satisfied with the pace of justice.

"Justice is moving in the right direction," he said.

Community response

The Ferguson Police Department’s decision to release those documents sparked outrage from those gathered around the press conference.

One observer, Oval Miller, said “it was going to be hard to accept and believe that was the reason this policeman took this boy’s life.”

“The police stop to degrade and humiliate,” Miller said. “That’s what the charge is. It’s not to help to protect and serve. It’s to degrade and humiliate.”

At the burned-out QuikTrip on West Florissant Ave., those that gathered said they were angry Brown was being linked to a robbery while little information was released about the officer who shot him.

"He [Chief Jackson] was supposed to come down here to give information on the officer," said Demond Riley, who lives in the neighborhood behind the QT. "He just came down here, said his name briefly and then passed out pictures of Mike Brown in the store."

Maria Altman and Jo Mannies contributed information to this story. This story will be updated throughout the day. 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.