The Ferguson police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown will be “immediately” returned to active duty if he is not indicted, Chief Tom Jackson told Yahoo News on Friday.
Officer Darren Wilson has been on paid leave since the controversial shooting in early August.
He would come back to a “not yet determined assignment,” the chief writes in an email.
If the grand jury charges Wilson, Jackson said the officer would “most likely” be terminated “if it is a felony.”
Attorneys representing the officer did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Wilson, a Ferguson officer for three years, has not spoken publicly since the shooting. It is unknown if the 28-year-old Wilson wants to return to the force.
“I would be surprised if they put him back on the streets at least in the near future,” said Bob Gorsky, a Dallas attorney who has represented Texas police officers for nearly 40 years.
Gorsky said the amount of backing Wilson gets from the Ferguson Police Department will likely play a big role in the officer's decision to return.
“He’s always going to be dealing with the emotional scars of the event itself, not to mention the scrutiny he’s gone through,” Gorsky said. “It’s going to be a tough situation for him. Hopefully the department will support him if he’s not charged with a crime.”
Ferguson was the scene of violent clashes between protesters and police in the aftermath of the shooting. The case continues to fuel a nationwide debate on race, policing and justice.
Protests are being planned in anticipation of the grand jury ruling, which St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch has said he expects to come before November’s end.
The grand jury has been hearing testimony for nearly three months. Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American, was shot multiple times by Wilson in the middle of a residential street Aug. 9. Accounts differ as to who instigated a scuffle between Wilson and Brown near the officer’s patrol car moments before shots were fired.
For the past month, law enforcement leaks to reporters have suggested that a grand jury will not indict Wilson for killing Brown, who some witnesses said had his hands up in surrender at some point in time when he was shot.
Brown’s family has argued that there is enough evidence to charge Wilson and have the case go to trial.
“That way everybody would get their due process,” Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney said this week. “The constitutional rights would be extended both to the police officer, but also to Michael Brown Jr.”
The St. Louis County Police Department has been in charge of the state criminal investigation, while the FBI was asked to determine if the shooting violated any federal civil rights.
Ferguson’s city police have yet to launch their own internal affairs investigation into the shooting.
“Typically an admin investigation waits until the criminal one is over,” Jackson said via email. “In this case it would be difficult anyway since County PD/FBI has all the evidence/witnesses.”
Yahoo News reported in late September that Ferguson police were in violation of their own reporting standards in regards to the shooting. The department’s written orders require that a use-of-force report be submitted after all such incidents. As of Friday, neither Wilson nor the department had filed the report.
Critics have chastised Jackson's handling of the case, from the withholding of public information to a six-week delay in reaching out to the Brown family personally.
Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder said he thought there was an obvious need for “wholesale change” in the Ferguson police department.
Jackson, who has led the department since 2010, called Holder’s remarks “irresponsible” and has said he plans on seeing the department through its time of turmoil.
Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).