Darren Wilson, the white Ferguson, Mo., police officer who shot and killed a young unarmed black man — setting off protests nationwide and fueling debates about policing in minority communities — resigned from the force Saturday.
In his letter of resignation from the Ferguson Police Department, Wilson said his continued employment put others' safety, and his own, in jeopardy.
“I have been told that my continued employment may put the residents and police officers of the city of Ferguson at risk, which is a circumstance that I cannot allow,” said the letter, which was published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Ferguson police said Saturday night that they had not yet been informed of the move, even hours after the Associated Press, citing Wilson's lawyer, reported his decision to leave the department.
The announcement came on the heels of several nights of rioting and looting in and around Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, and in other American cities after St. Louis County officials announced Monday that a grand jury had decided not to indict Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested in multiple cities, including Los Angeles.
The grand jury found insufficient evidence to charge Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting. Evidence released by the grand jury often portrayed Brown as the aggressor in the fatal encounter that began when Wilson told Brown, who was walking with a companion in the middle of the street, to get on the sidewalk.
“It is my hope that my resignation will allow the community to heal,” Wilson said in the letter. “I would like to thank all of my supporters and fellow officers throughout this process.”
Once the story broke, Wilson was hammered on social media for his comments on healing; many critics said the lack of indictment denied the Brown family any healing.
There were reports of additional unrest in Ferguson on Saturday night, including pictures on social media of protesters once again burning the American flag.
A Brown family attorney, Anthony Gray, said Wilson had made a decision that was in his best interest.
“Let's face it: His ability to provide quality police services to the citizens of Ferguson has been severely diminished to vapors by this incident,” Gray said.
Christine Ewings, one of Brown's cousins, was with Brown's grandmother at home in Ferguson when she heard Wilson had resigned.
“He really doesn't need to be out here anymore because he'll just hurt somebody else,” said Ewings, a phlebotomist. “He has gotten away with it. ... I'm glad he's not patrolling the streets anymore, but it does nothing for us.”
DeRay McKesson, an activist from Milwaukee who has been in Ferguson since August, said many of the long-term demonstrators were unsure how to react to the resignation, which they felt was inevitable but not a sign of progress.
“The Wilson resignation was necessary, but it's not justice,” McKesson said. “This is not a win; this was necessary. We did not doubt this was going to happen one way or the other. He was going to resign now or he was going to show up to work one day and there would have been massive unrest.”
In his first prime-time interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Wilson said that on the day of the shooting he had performed as he had been trained to do, and he said his conscience was clear.
His decision to resign was not a surprise: Wilson's lawyer made several TV appearances in which he said his client knew it would be impossible to go back to the police department.
In his testimony before the grand jury, Wilson said that as he left the scene of his clash with Brown, all he could think was, “‘I'm just kind of in shock of what just happened.' I really didn't believe it.”
Wilson said he and Brown scuffled while he was still in his patrol car. Brown, he said, looked like a “demon.”
The U.S. Justice Department is conducting its own inquiry into the shooting, and some Ferguson activists hope it will file a federal criminal case against Wilson. Experts have said, however, that the threshold for charging him with a federal crime is even higher than for local prosecutors because it requires proof that the officer intentionally used more force than reasonably necessary to deprive someone of his civil rights.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has said he hopes to wrap up the criminal investigation before he leaves office, possibly in February.
The broader civil investigation by the Justice Department into the Ferguson Police Department could take longer. Among other things, the federal agency is examining whether there is a pattern of violations of citizens' rights. Justice officials are also looking into whether Ferguson police have a history of using excessive force.