It started with a simple request — “will you just walk on the sidewalk?” Forty-five seconds later, Michael Brown lay sprawled on the street, shot dead by a police officer who had never before fired his gun in the line of duty.
And as he drove away from the 18-year-old’s body, heading to the Ferguson police station to wash Brown’s blood from his hands and surrender his gun, all Officer Darren Wilson could think was, “I’m just kind of in shock of what just happened. I really didn’t believe it.”
Those were the words he shared with a grand jury. And late Monday, Wilson’s explanation of that deadly day in early August became public for the first time, a small part of an enormous trove of documents released by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch.
Thousands of pages of police interviews, autopsy reports and secret testimony — including Wilson’s — were made public after McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson in Brown’s death.
Until late Monday, Wilson’s voice had remained silent, and the general story line went largely unchallenged: White police officer shoots unarmed young black man trying to surrender on a summer day in a St. Louis suburb.
But on Monday, Wilson’s terror and panic were plain to see in 90 pages of his testimony before the grand jury on Sept. 16 and an 18-page interview with detectives that was recorded Aug. 10, the day after Brown’s death.
Wilson was leaving an earlier call, having assisted the mother of a sick infant, when he saw Brown and another young man walking down the middle of the street, forcing traffic to slow and swerve around them. The police officer told the grand jury that he drove up, stopped his car and asked Wilson, “What’s wrong with the sidewalk?”
In Wilson’s account, it was all downhill from there. Brown swore at the officer, and the two men walked away. So Wilson called for backup, threw his police-issued Chevy Tahoe into reverse and cut the young men off.
As he opened the door, he testified, Brown slammed it shut on Wilson’s leg. The officer told Brown to get back and opened the door again.
“He then grabs my door again and shuts my door,” Wilson told the grand jury. “At that time is when I saw him coming into my vehicle.... I was hit right here in the side of the face with a fist.”
The two men scuffled, Wilson said, and when he struggled to gain some control over the situation “and not be trapped in my car anymore,” he grabbed Brown’s arm. “The only way I can describe it is I felt like a 5-year-old holding on to Hulk Hogan.”
Brown, he said, looked like a “demon.”
When Wilson drew his gun from inside his car and told Brown to get back or he would shoot, the officer said, “he immediately grabs my gun and says, ‘You are too much of a [coward] to shoot me.’”
Wilson said he pulled his gun because “I felt that another one of those punches in my face could knock me out or worse.” Brown was bigger than the 6-foot-4 officer, and stronger, too. “I’d already taken two to the face, and I didn’t think I would, the third one could be fatal if he hit me right.”
Wilson ultimately got out of the car, and Brown began to run away. Then he stopped. And turned. And began to run back toward the officer. He made a fist with his left hand and reached under his shirt with his right. Wilson testified that he kept telling him to get on the ground. Brown didn’t.
“I shoot a series of shots,” Wilson said. “I don’t know how many I shot, I just know I shot it.”
Later, in front of the grand jury, Wilson was asked whether he had ever had to use such force in the line of duty before Aug. 9.
“I’ve never used my weapon before,” he replied.
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