Michael Brown's family sues Ferguson, Mo., for wrongful death

Michael Brown's parents file a wrongful-death lawsuit against Ferguson, Mo., and former police officials

Michael Brown's parents filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Thursday against the city of Ferguson, Mo., former Police Chief Thomas Jackson and former Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of their son last summer.

In a televised news conference held outside the St. Louis County courthouse, where the lawsuit was filed, the Brown family's attorneys said Wilson hasn't been cross-examined and that his accounts of events do not justify killing Brown, 18, after a struggle on Aug. 9.

Attorney Anthony Gray promised the case "will highlight the facts that nobody has seen, physical evidence that nobody has talked about," and that "we hope that you will see not only should [Wilson] have been indicted, but he definitely should have been held responsible."

The death of Brown, who was black and unarmed, triggered months of protests and unrest in Ferguson, a predominantly black St. Louis suburb with a mostly white police force.

Demonstrators often chanted, "Hands up, don't shoot," alluding to some witnesses' contention that Brown was trying to surrender when he was killed. Others, including Wilson, said Brown instead was charging at him.

The fatal confrontation began when Wilson told Brown and a friend to stop walking in the street and get on the sidewalk. The community was enraged not only by the killing but by the fact that authorities left Brown's bloody body in the street for more than four hours. 

A St. Louis County grand jury heard evidence in the case for months but did not charge Wilson. The officer, who is no longer with the police force, testified that he feared for his life when he fired his gun, hitting Brown six times. The lack of an indictment set off another round of protests and unrest in November. 

To issue an indictment, nine of 12 grand jurors were required to agree. One juror has sued the county prosecutor, seeking the right to speak publicly and hinting that he wanted to charge Wilson. 

The U.S. Department of Justice also investigated and announced last month that it would not charge Wilson with violating Brown's civil rights. The Justice Department reported that it did not find credible witnesses and evidence to support claims that Brown was shot as he tried to surrender.

"Obviously we take dispute with the way those cases were presented," Gray told reporters Thursday. "Presentation of evidence is key."

Another Brown family attorney, Benjamin Crump, added that the family's legal team thinks forensic evidence contradicts some elements of Wilson's story. "It's not Michael Brown's parents filing this lawsuit, it is the forensic evidence that is filing this lawsuit," Crump said.

Brown's parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., attended the news conference but declined to speak.

After the Justice Department's announcement, Brown's parents, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, had said they would sue. Their attorneys have emphasized that a civil suit carries a lower burden of proof than a criminal trial. 

The parents also expressed grief after the local grand jury declined to indict Wilson. In a statement issued in November, Brown's parents said: "We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions."

To issue an indictment, nine of 12 grand jurors were required to agree. One juror has sued the county prosecutor, seeking the right to speak publicly and hinting that he wanted to charge Wilson. 

The lawsuit filed Thursday is likely to touch on a Justice Department investigation’s findings of a widespread pattern of racial discrimination that had turned Ferguson into a "powder keg" by the time the grand jury declined to indict Wilson.

The Justice Department accused the Police Department and the local court system of engaging in institutionalized discrimination against black residents -- in essence, using them to generate revenue for the city.

Justice Department officials also found that some police officers had passed around racist emails, including one that likened President Obama to a chimpanzee. Those workers have been fired or have resigned. 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

9:58 a.m.: This article was updated with details from the morning news conference.

The first version of this article was published at 3:10 a.m.

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