FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Chaos returned to the streets of Ferguson after a grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the death of Michael Brown – a decision that enraged protesters who set fire to buildings and cars and looted businesses in the area where the unarmed, black 18-year-old was fatally shot.
Monday night’s destruction appeared to be much worse than last summer’s protests, with at least a dozen businesses badly damaged or destroyed. Authorities reported hearing hundreds of gunshots, which for a time prevented fire crews from fighting the flames.
Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County police, said that unless his agency could bring in 10,000 officers, “I don’t think we can prevent folks who really are intent on destroying a community.”
The grand jury’s decision means that officer Darren Wilson, who is white, will not face any state criminal charges for killing Brown, whose death inflamed deep racial tensions between many black Americans and police.
Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said the jury of nine whites and three blacks met on 25 separate days over three months, hearing more than 70 hours of testimony from about 60 witnesses, including three medical examiners and experts on blood, toxicology and firearms.
“They are the only people that have heard and examined every witness and every piece of evidence,” he said, adding that the jurors “poured their hearts and soul into this process.”
In the first flash of unrest after the grand jury announcement, Belmar said he told officers to back off, suggesting they handle the situation as if it were a festival or baseball game. But the situation quickly “spun out of control,” as protesters looted businesses and set fire to numerous vehicles, including at least two police cars.
Officers eventually lobbed tear gas from inside armored vehicles to disperse crowds. There were at least 29 arrests, police said.
As McCulloch read his statement, Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, sat atop a vehicle listening to a broadcast of the announcement. When she heard the decision, she burst into tears and began screaming before being whisked away by supporters.
The crowd with her erupted in anger, converging on the barricade where police in riot gear were standing. They pushed down the barricade and began pelting police with objects, including a bullhorn. Officers stood their ground.
Speaking for nearly 45 minutes, a defensive McCulloch repeatedly cited what he said were inconsistencies and erroneous accounts from witnesses. When asked by a reporter whether any of the accounts amount to perjury, he said, “I think they truly believe that’s what they saw, but they didn’t.”
The prosecutor also was critical of the media, saying “the most significant challenge” for his office was a “24-hour news cycle and an insatiable appetite for something – for anything – to talk about.”
In his statement, McCulloch never mentioned that Brown was unarmed when he was killed.
Brown’s family released a statement saying they were “profoundly disappointed” in the decision but asked that the public “channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.”
Shortly after the announcement, authorities released more than 1,000 pages of grand jury documents, including Wilson’s testimony.
Wilson told jurors that he initially encountered Brown and a friend walking in a street and, when he told them to move to a sidewalk, Brown responded with an expletive.
Wilson then noticed that Brown had a handful of cigars, “and that’s when it clicked for me,” he said, referring to a radio report minutes earlier of a robbery at a nearby convenience store.
Wilson said he asked a dispatcher to send additional police, then backed his vehicle up in front of Brown and his friend. As he tried to open the door, Wilson said Brown slammed it back shut.
The officer said he then pushed Brown with the door and Brown hit him in the face. Wilson told grand jurors he was thinking: “What do I do not to get beaten inside my car.”
“I drew my gun,” Wilson told the grand jury. “I said, `Get back or I’m going to shoot you.'”
“He immediately grabs my gun and says, `You are too much of a pussy to shoot me,'” Wilson told grand jurors. He said Brown grabbed the gun with his right hand, twisted it and “digs it into my hip.”
Asked why he felt the need to pull his gun, Wilson told grand jurors he was concerned another punch to his face could “knock me out or worse.”
After shots were fired in the vehicle, Brown fled, and Wilson gave chase. At some point, Brown turned around to face the officer.
Witness accounts were conflicted about whether Brown walked, stumbled or charged back toward Wilson before he was fatally wounded, McCulloch said. There were also differing accounts of how or whether Brown’s hands were raised. His body fell about 153 feet from Wilson’s vehicle.
Thousands of people rallied in other U.S. cities, most peacefully, and President Barack Obama appealed for calm and understanding, pleading with both protesters and police to show restraint.
“We are a nation built on the rule of law, so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make,” Obama said. He said it was understandable that some Americans would be angered, but echoed Brown’s parents in calling for any protests to be peaceful.
The family of Michael Brown issued this statement Monday evening:
“We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.
“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.
“Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.
“We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.
“Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”
Impact across the country
Protesters in Sanford were emotional but peaceful as the decision came out of Ferguson Missouri Monday night.
Crowds will gather in front of the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford. A rally was expected in Downtown Orlando as well, but no one came out.
“Do I respect the decision?” said Sanford resident Tyler Anderson. “I have no other choice but to accept and no other choice but to receive but as far as respect the decision? No.”
Larger rallies happened in New York and Chicago, where crowds marched in the streets with their hands up. Protesters in Philadelphia marched on City Hall.
Michael Brown’s family is asking for four and a half minutes of silence before any protest, which they say is symbolic because Brown’s body was left on the street for four and a half hours after he was shot and killed.
Timeline of events after death of Michael Brown
A timeline of key events following the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.
AUG. 9 – Brown and a companion, both black, are confronted by an officer as they walk back to Brown’s home from a convenience store. Brown and the officer, who is white, are involved in a scuffle, followed by gunshots. Brown dies at the scene, and his body remains in the street for four hours in the summer heat. Neighbors later lash out at authorities, saying they mistreated the body.
AUG. 10 – After a candlelight vigil, people protesting Brown’s death smash car windows and carry away armloads of looted goods from stores. In the first of several nights of violence, looters are seen making off with bags of food, toilet paper and alcohol. Some protesters stand atop police cars and taunt officers.
AUG. 11 – The FBI opens an investigation into Brown’s death, and two men who said they saw the shooting tell reporters that Brown had his hands raised when the officer approached with his weapon and fired repeatedly. That night, police in riot gear fire tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse a crowd.
AUG. 12 – Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson cancels plans to release the name of the officer who shot Brown, citing death threats against the police department and City Hall.
AUG. 14 – The Missouri Highway Patrol takes control of security in Ferguson, relieving St. Louis County and local police of their law-enforcement authority following four days of violence. The shift in command comes after images from the protests show many officers equipped with military style gear, including armored vehicles, body armor and assault rifles. In scores of photographs that circulate online, officers are seen pointing their weapons at demonstrators.
AUG. 15 – Police identify the officer who shot Brown as Darren Wilson, 28. They also release a video purporting to show Brown robbing a convenience store of almost $50 worth of cigars shortly before he was killed, a move that further inflames protesters.
AUG. 16 – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declares a state of emergency and imposes a curfew in Ferguson.
AUG. 17- Attorney General Eric Holder orders a federal medical examiner to perform another autopsy on Brown.
AUG. 18 – Nixon calls the National Guard to Ferguson to help restore order and lifts the curfew.
AUG. 19 – Nixon says he will not seek the removal of St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch from the investigation into Brown’s death. Some black leaders questioned whether the prosecutor’s deep family connections to police would affect his ability to be impartial. McCulloch’s father was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty when McCulloch was a child, and he has many relatives who work in law enforcement.
AUG. 20 – Holder visits Ferguson to offer assurances about the investigation into Brown’s death and to meet with investigators and Brown’s family. In nearby Clayton, a grand jury begins hearing evidence to determine whether Wilson should be charged.
AUG. 21 – Nixon orders the National Guard to begin withdrawing from Ferguson.
SEPT. 25- Holder announces his resignation but says he plans to remain in office until his successor is confirmed.
SEPT. 25- Ferguson Chief Tom Jackson releases a videotaped apology to Brown’s family and attempts to march in solidarity with protesters, a move that backfires when Ferguson officers scuffle with demonstrators and arrest one person moments after Jackson joins the group.
OCT. 10 – Protesters from across the country descend on the St. Louis region for “Ferguson October,” four days of coordinated and spontaneous protests. A weekend march and rally in downtown St. Louis draws several thousand participants.
OCT. 13 – Amid a downpour, an interfaith group of clergy cross a police barricade on the final day of Ferguson October as part of an event dubbed “Moral Monday.” The protests extend beyond Ferguson to sites such as the nearby headquarters of Fortune 500 company Emerson Electric and the Edward Jones Dome in downtown St. Louis, site of a Monday Night Football game between the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.
OCT. 21 – Nixon pledges to create an independent Ferguson Commission to examine race relations, failing schools and other broader social and economic issues in the aftermath of Brown’s death.
NOV. 17 – The Democratic governor declares a state of emergency and activates the National Guard again ahead of a decision from a grand jury. He places the St. Louis County Police Department in charge of security in Ferguson, with orders to work as a unified command with St. Louis city police and the Missouri Highway Patrol.
NOV. 18 – Nixon names 16 people to the Ferguson Commission, selecting a diverse group that includes the owner of construction-supply company, two pastors, two attorneys, a university professor, a 20-year-old community activist and a police detective. Nine of its members are black. Seven are white.
NOV. 24 – Prosecutor announces that grand jury decides not to indict Wilson. During ensuing protests, at least a dozen buildings and multiple police cars are burned, officers are hit by rocks and batteries and reports of gunfire force some St. Louis-bound flights to be diverted.
What comes next?
A look at some of the likely next steps in Ferguson:
Q. What other investigations are underway?
A: The FBI and the Justice Department are continuing to investigate the shooting for potential civil rights violations. Investigators would need to satisfy a rigorous standard of proof in order to mount a prosecution. Whereas the county grand jury could consider multiple charges, Justice Department lawyers have a single focus: whether it can be shown that Wilson willfully deprived Brown of his civil rights. That is a difficult burden to meet, especially considering the wide latitude given to police officers in using deadly force. Some other past high-profile police shootings, including the 1999 killing of Amadou Diallo in New York City, did not result in federal prosecutions.
Q. What about broader allegations of racial insensitivity on the part of the Ferguson police department?
A: Beyond the shooting itself, the Justice Department is conducting a wide-reaching investigation into the practices of the entire department. That investigation is focusing on stops, searches and arrests and generally looking for patterns of discrimination within the overwhelmingly white department. It has the potential to require major changes in the policing methods of the Ferguson force. Such broader reviews typically rely on data and interviews in the community and can take far longer than a criminal investigation.
The Justice Department has initiated roughly 20 investigations of troubled police departments in the past five years, or more than twice the number undertaken in the five years before that.
And regardless of the outcome of the criminal investigation, there’s also the potential that Brown’s family could file a wrongful-death lawsuit against Wilson.
Q: How long might these other investigations go on?
A: The Justice Department has not set a timeline for either investigation, though outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder has said he expects the federal investigation into the shooting to be concluded before he leaves office.
Q: Are there longer-term efforts to deal with underlying problems?
A: Nixon several days ago named 16 members to a panel aimed at helping the community heal after the shooting. The commission, which will study underlying social and economic conditions, is expected to make recommendations in a report due by September 2015.
A closer look at the community of Ferguson
HISTORY: Incorporated in 1894 by founder William B. Ferguson as a railroad depot, the town quickly grew into a hub for freight and passenger traffic and a bedroom community for city workers. It also attracted many freed slaves looking for a home after the Civil War.
Before school desegregation, Ferguson and other parts of north St. Louis County were predominantly white. The racial makeup changed as many white suburban families moved to outlying areas such as St. Charles County, parts of which are more than 40 miles from St. Louis. Today, Ferguson is nearly 70 percent black.
POPULATION AND POVERTY: By 2010, the census counted about 21,000 people in Ferguson, which is about 10 miles north of downtown St. Louis in the broader area known to locals as North County. Fewer than half of the approximately 9,100 homes are owner-occupied, and about a quarter of residents live below the federal poverty level.
COMMERCE: Ferguson is home of the global headquarters of Emerson Electric Co., a Fortune 500 company that employs more than 130,000 workers worldwide. Just outside the city limits is Express Scripts, the nation’s largest company that manages pharmacy benefits. Earlier this year, the corporation announced a $56 million expansion that will add 1,500 jobs. Ferguson’s former rail depot is home to a redevelopment effort aimed at promoting small businesses in a pedestrian-friendly corridor, with a weekly farmers market and outdoor concerts in the summer.
SCHOOLS: Several North County school districts including the Normandy system from which Brown recently graduated lost state accreditation because of declining test scores and other academic shortcomings. Some students from the failing districts were bused to better-performing schools in other districts.
RACIAL CONCERNS: Some Ferguson protesters have complained that members of the city’s predominantly white police force disproportionately target black motorists during traffic stops. A 2013 report by the Missouri attorney general’s office found that Ferguson police stopped and arrested black drivers nearly twice as frequently as white motorists but were also less likely to find contraband among the black drivers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.