Avvo legal analyst Lisa Bloom answers the questions many are asking, as the grand jury trial on the shooting of Michael Brown enters its second day.
What is Officer Darren Wilson’s story and why hasn’t he been arrested?
We don’t know, exactly, what Officer Wilson’s story is. He has not given any public statements, nor has any attorney for him.
The local police chief and a woman named Josie who called in to a radio show provided some information. Piecing it together, it is: Officer Wilson stopped Mike Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, for walking in the street (jaywalking). Brown then engaged in a physical altercation with the officer, and the officer’s gun went off in the car. Brown pulled away, and then “bum rushed” Officer Wilson, and so Officer Wilson shot him in self-defense.
Who are the non-police witnesses to the shooting – are they credible?
By my count there are at least five credible civilian witnesses to the shooting who have spoken out publicly, as it happened in broad daylight in a suburban neighborhood. Four of these did not know anyone involved in the incident which helps their credibility.
Although everyone had a different vantage point, most of the witnesses say that there was a tussle at the police car, but then that Brown was shot when he was running away from the police car, and that the final shots were fired when Brown had his hands in the air to indicate that he was unarmed and was surrendering.
No police officer rendered first aid or CPR to Brown. His body was left in the street for more than five hours, according to media reports and videos shot by witnesses, which shocked the community. According to The New York Times, a nurse wanted to run out and render aid to Brown as he was lying in the street, but the police would not allow her to do so.
What are the most disputed facts in the case?
The biggest issue is whether Wilson shot at Brown when Brown presented no threat to Wilson – that is, with his hands in the air. Even if Brown had engaged in a physical altercation, Wilson could not legally shoot to kill under those circumstances. As the victim’s family has pointed out, hands in the air is the universal sign for surrender.
Another question is whether Brown was shot from behind, while fleeing. If Brown was running away from Wilson, he was certainly not a threat to Wilson. However, Wilson may still argue that Brown was a “fleeing felon” based on the altercation in the police car, and possibly from the “strong arm robbery” that preceded the altercation.
We don’t know yet whether Wilson knew about Brown’s alleged theft of cigarillos from a convenience store minutes before the incident, and whether, for example, Wilson heard a radio call describing it as a “strong arm robbery.”
Based on the family’s preliminary autopsy results, Brown sustained a bullet shot to the back (underside) of his forearm, which would be consistent with being shot from behind or with his arms up. A second bullet hit him in the palm, which would also be consistent with either of those scenarios. The final lethal shot struck through the apex of his head, consistent with his body bent at a 90 degree angle.
Which law enforcement agencies are involved? What are their roles?
Ferguson Police, St. Louis Police, the National Guard, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are all involved in keeping the peace in Ferguson and investigating the matter.
It’s a confusing jumble. Currently the FBI is investigating along with local authorities and it is not clear to me who, if anyone, is in charge. As I write there is public fighting between Governor Nixon and the local prosecutor as to whether the prosecutor should be removed from the case, based on community outcry that he has too many family ties to local police and has made inappropriate public statements about the case.
When does the grand jury trial begin and what can the public expect at this stage?
The local prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, began the grand jury proceedings yesterday. This is a secret proceeding so we do not know who has testified, or what they said.
The prosecutor could have done his own investigation, had Wilson arrested and arraigned, and then opted for a preliminary hearing, which is generally less than one day and is open to the public. He did not do so.
The grand jury will convene once a month and is expected to review the matter through October.