The Ferguson police chief issued a surprise apology on Thursday to the family of unarmed shooting victim Michael Brown.
“I am truly sorry for the loss of your son,” Chief Thomas Jackson said. “No one who has not experienced the loss of a child can understand what you are feeling.”
It marks the first time Jackson has publicly addressed the Brown family directly.
The apology came in a 2 1/2-minute video recorded and released by a national public relations agency hired recently by the City of Ferguson.
Jackson, wearing a casual red polo shirt instead of his customary uniform, stood in front of three flags and read from a prepared statement.
“Overnight I went from being a small-town police chief to being a part of a conversation about racism, equality and the role of policing in that conversation,” Jackson said. “As chief of police and as a resident, I want to be part of that conversation. I also want to be part of the solution.”
The apology comes six weeks after Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown, 18, multiple times in broad daylight in the middle of a residential street.
Attorneys representing the Brown family didn't immediately reply to a message seeking comment about Jackson's apology.
Critics have chastised Jackson's handling of the case and for not reaching out to the Brown family personally.
Thursday’s turn of events apparently caught members of Jackson’s own force by surprise. When word of the video broke, Yahoo News emailed Officer Tim Zoll, a spokesman for the department.
“I have no knowledge of any apology issued by Chief Jackson,” replied Zoll, even as CNN aired the video to a national audience.
Accounts of what led up to the Aug. 9 shooting have differed. Police have said Brown attacked Wilson, but nearby witnesses claim the teen was trying to surrender when he was killed.
Brown died instantly, and a large crowd from the surrounding neighborhood gathered as investigators worked at the scene. On Thursday, Jackson apologized for the fact that Brown’s body remained in the street for 4 1/2 hours.
“The time that it took involved very important work on the part of investigators who were trying to collect evidence and gain a true picture of what happened that day,” Jackson said. “But it was just too long, and I am truly sorry for that.”
Jackson also addressed complaints that police harassed demonstrators in the days after the shooting. The chief made no apology to protesters who looted and committed violence, but he said other situations could have been handled differently.
“The right of the people to peacefully assemble is what the police are here to protect,” he said. “If anyone who was peacefully exercising that right is upset and angry, I feel responsible and I’m sorry.”
Wilson is on paid leave while state and federal investigations are conducted. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice is also looking at how the entire police department operates. The sweeping review will focus on how officers use force and how they search and arrest suspects.
“I’m also aware of the pain and the feeling of mistrust felt in some of the African-American community towards the police department,” Jackson said Thursday. “The city belongs to all of us, and we are all a part of this community. It is clear we have much work to do.”