Michael Brown suspected of punching store clerk before death - KCTV5

Michael Brown suspected of punching store clerk just before death

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FERGUSON, MO (KCTV/KMOV/AP) -

When an officer confronted Michael Brown on a Ferguson street Saturday afternoon, police believed Brown and his friend had just punched a store clerk and stolen items from the convenience store.

The assault on the store clerk occurred just moments before Brown, 18, was shot and killed by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson. Brown was unarmed and witnesses said he had his hands up in the air, which has sparked outrage in Ferguson.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released information to the media related to the convenience store strong-arm robbery Friday morning at the same time that they released Wilson's name. The release included convenience store video and still photos.

Ferguson police did not provide the information to Missouri Highway Patrol or MHP Capt. Ron Johnson, who is now in charge of Ferguson's security, before releasing it to the media. Johnson said he would like to get the information from Ferguson police and analyze it himself.

Benjamin Crump, attorney for the Brown family, accused police of trying to draw attention away from Brown's death. He said Brown's parents were "incensed" by what he calls "the old game of smoke and mirrors."

"It's bad enough they assassinated him, and now they're trying to assassinate his character," Crump said.

Jackson said his "heart goes out to the family," but he could no longer hold onto the surveillance photos and videos after receiving numerous requests for them under the Missouri Sunshine Law. He didn't completely explain why it wasn't released earlier and was released at the same time as the name of the police officer.

"All I did was release the video tape to you because I had to. I've been sitting on it. Too many people put in FOIA requests for that thing and I had to release it," Jackson said.

Family members held a news conference late Friday afternoon to urge people not to lose sight of the fact that Brown was unarmed and had his hands up when he was shot. Police have said that he beat up the officer and was not cooperating.

They also said that upset people should not riot or loot in response to the "character assassination" of Brown.

According to the incident report from the robbery, Brown was named as a suspect. Brown and an acquaintance, identified only as Johnson, reportedly took a $48.99 box of cigars from a convenience store. An unnamed witness then called 911. Moments later, Brown allegedly grabbed the clerk and pushed him against shelves in the store.

Dorian Johnson, a witness to the shooting, spoke to reporters shortly after the shooting.

Johnson acknowledged to the FBI and other investigators that he and Brown went to the store and "that he did take cigarillos," his attorney, Freeman Bosley, told MSNBC.

Bosley said he was aware of security video from the store but had not seen it.

Jackson said that Johnson was questioned and determined that he did not commit a store at the Ferguson Market and Liquor on West Florissant Avenue. It is not the Quik-Trip that was looted and burned after Brown's death.

"Dorian Johnson did not commit a crime and he was not complicit in a crime," Jackson said.

The police chief initially in a Friday morning news conference indicated that Wilson went to the area after a call to police reporting a "strong-arm" robbery just before noon. He said a dispatcher gave a description of the robbery suspect, and Wilson, who had been assisting on another call, was sent to investigate.

However in a Friday afternoon news conference, Jackson said Wilson happened to be in the area on a sick call and was not responding to the robbery call when he came upon Brown and his friend.

"He was in the area," Jackson said, adding that Wilson stopped them "because they were walking down the street blocking traffic."

Wilson, a six-year veteran of the police department, encountered Brown just after 12:01 p.m., with a second officer arriving three minutes later, Jackson said. He described Wilson as "quiet" and a "gentleman," who is devastated by the events.

Police released security video, dated Aug. 9, that appears to show a man wearing a ball cap, shorts and white T-shirt grabbing a much shorter man by his shirt near the store's door. A police report alleges that Brown grabbed a man who had come from behind the store counter by his shirt and "forcefully pushed him back" into a display rack.

Brown's uncle, Bernard Ewing, questioned whether Wilson really believed Brown was a suspect. He noted Johnson's account that the officer told the two young men to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk, and that Brown had his hands up when he was shot.

"If he's a robbery suspect, they would have had the lights on," Ewing said. "If you rob somebody, you would tell them, `Get on the ground' or something, not, `Get off the sidewalk.'"

"It still doesn't justify shooting him when he puts his hands up," he added. "You still don't shoot him in the face."

Brown's death has sparked several days of clashes with furious protesters in the city. The mood was quelled on Thursday after the governor turned oversight of the protests over to the Highway Patrol. State troopers walking side-by-side with thousands of peaceful protesters replaced the image of previous nights: county police in riot gear and armored tanks.

But the police chief's announcement Friday was met with immediate disbelief and anger by several dozen community members who also attended the news conference, which was hastily held at a gas station burned during a night of looting earlier in the week in Ferguson. Racial tensions have simmered in the town of 21,000, which is nearly 70 percent black and patrolled by a nearly all-white police force.

"He stopped the wrong one, bottom line," yelled Tatinisha Wheeler, a nurse's aide who was at the news conference.

A couple dozen protesters began marching around the charred gas station and in the street chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot," and, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"

Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street during a routine patrol. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer's weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car before the struggle spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times, according to police.

Dorian Johnson has told media a different story. He said he and Brown were walking in the street when an officer ordered them onto the sidewalk, then grabbed his friend's neck and tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He said Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times.

Tensions in Ferguson boiled over after a candlelight vigil Sunday night, as looters smashed and burned businesses in the neighborhood, where police have repeatedly fired tear gas and smoke bombs.

By Thursday, there was a dramatic shift in the atmosphere after Gov. Jay Nixon assigned protest oversight to Ron Johnson, who is black and grew up near Ferguson. He marched alongside protesters, along with other high-ranking brass from the Highway Patrol and the St. Louis County Police Department.

"We're here to serve and protect," Johnson said. "We're not here to instill fear."

The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell - the point at which previous protests have grown tense - no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for standoffs between police and protesters.

"All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas," said Pedro Smith, who has participated in the nightly protests, on Thursday. "This is totally different. Now we're being treated with respect."

Jackson has come under fire for releasing the surveillance videos and photos from the convenience store at the same time as releasing the officer's name. He said he did so because he could no longer keep the information.

The more tolerant response came as President Barack Obama spoke publicly for the first time about the shooting - and the subsequent violence that shocked the nation and threatened to tear apart Ferguson.

Obama said there was "no excuse" for violence either against the police or by officers against peaceful protesters.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said federal investigators have interviewed witnesses to the shooting.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.), KMOV and Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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