FERGUSON, Mo. — Police Officer Darren Wilson, the suburban St. Louis patrolman who killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown in early August, will not face criminal charges in the controversial shooting death, a grand jury has decided.
Wilson, who is white, became a national figure after he shot the black 18-year-old multiple times in broad daylight on a residential street. The grand jury deliberated for months, and Ferguson was rocked by violent protests in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
The decision was announced by prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch, who discussed the lengthy deliberation period of the grand jury, citing consideration of differing witness reports as one reason for the unusually long session.
President Obama gave a brief statement soon after the announcement, calling for a peaceful response to the decision.
“To those in Ferguson, there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively,” he said. Progress can be made, he said, but “that won’t be done by throwing bottles, that won’t be done by smashing car windows."
McCulloch laid out the juror sessions by the numbers: the jurors met 25 times and spent hundreds of hours poring over evidence.
He also expressed condolences for the Brown family. "My heart goes out to them. The family is going to have a loss forever," he said.
On the whereabouts of Wilson, he said, "I have no idea what his status is." Last week several media outlets reported that Wilson was preparing to resign. Had he been indicted, he would have been required to turn himself in to authorities immediately.
Ahead of Monday's announcement, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon made a plea for peace.
"Our shared hope and expectation is that regardless of the decision, people on all sides show tolerance, mutual respect and restraint," he said.
Meanwhile, officials in Clayton stepped up security measures, erecting barricades around the courthouse to prepare for possible protests. A Yahoo News reporter spotted members of the National Guard arriving in military vehicles. Several Ferguson-area schools have announced they will be closed Tuesday.
“The men and women of the National Guard also will be in the area to provide security at critical facilities like firehouses, police stations and utility substations, and offer logistical and transportation support as needed. This will free up law enforcement officers to do their jobs effectively," Nixon said.
Demonstrators gathered ahead of the announcement holding signs, chanting and honking car horns.
The 12-member St. Louis County grand jury — which included one black man, two black women, six white men and three white women — has been hearing testimony since Aug. 20 to determine whether there was probable cause that Wilson had committed a crime.
Police experts have said officers generally have leeway to use lethal force if they reasonably fear they are in imminent danger.
The Aug. 9 shooting sparked protests and riots in the mostly black St. Louis suburb and fueled a nationwide debate on race, policing and justice.
“Regardless of the grand jury's decision, the Brown family and our legal team ask again for peace and calm, even though we understand people may have feelings of anger or disappointment,” Benjamin Crump, the family’s attorney, said in a statement prior to the announcement. “We encourage people to take their frustrations to the ballot box, not the streets.”
Brown, who graduated from high school in May, and his friend Dorian Johnson were walking down the middle of a two-lane street around noon that day when Wilson encountered them in his marked police SUV.
Wilson, a Ferguson officer for three years, either asked or ordered the pair to get on the sidewalk. From there, accounts differ as to who instigated a scuffle between Wilson and Brown at the driver’s side door.
Johnson, 22, told investigators and reporters that Wilson was antagonistic toward them, abruptly backing up his SUV and throwing open the door, which bounced off Brown.
“He just reached his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around his neck, and he was trying to choke my friend,” Johnson told reporters after the shooting. “He was trying to get away, and the officer then reached out and grabbed his arm to pull him inside the car.”
Wilson, who has been on paid leave since the shooting, has not spoken publicly about what happened. However, he reportedly met with investigators on several occasions and testified before the grand jury for four hours — a move that surprised some legal experts, since he was not bound by law to go before the panel.
Ferguson police and the St. Louis County Police Department, the lead investigating agency, released sparse police reports about the shooting and have refused to provide details of their findings.
St. Louis County’s official autopsy on Brown’s body has not been made public, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained a copy from an anonymous source and published it on Oct. 22. The autopsy included a summary from Detective Patrick J. Hokamp’s preliminary investigation of the shooting.
“The deceased became belligerent towards Officer Wilson,” the document states. “As Officer Wilson attempted to exit out of his patrol vehicle the deceased pushed his door shut and began to struggle with Officer Wilson, during the struggle the Officers weapon was un-holstered. The weapon discharged during the struggle.
“The deceased then ran down the roadway. Officer Wilson then began to chase the deceased. As he was giving chase to the deceased, the deceased turned around and ran towards Officer Wilson. Officer Wilson had his service weapon drawn, as the deceased began to run towards him, he discharged his service weapon several times.”
The county autopsy and a private exam commissioned by the teen’s family both concluded Brown was struck by six of Wilson’s shots, including a fatal hit to the top of the head. Other exit wounds and grazes were found on the teen’s head, upper body, arm and hand.
The injury to his right hand may have been of particular interest to the grand jury, since the county autopsy discovered it was inflicted at close range, possibly supporting Wilson’s account that there was a struggle for the gun in the police cruiser. Sources told the Post-Dispatch that Brown’s blood had been found on the officer’s gun.
Crump, the attorney for the Brown family, immediately downplayed the newspaper’s account.
“We are not surprised by the information leaked last night by the St. Louis Medical Examiner's office,” Crump said in a written statement. “Several independent witnesses indicated there was a brief altercation between Michael Brown and Officer Wilson at the patrol car. What we want to know is why Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown multiple times and killed him even though he was more than 20 feet away from his patrol car; this is the crux of the matter!”
The shooting scene unfolded on a neighborhood street amid a cluster of apartment buildings. A resident who lives in one of the apartments later turned over a purported audio recording of the shots being fired. Authorities have not disclosed how many times Wilson discharged his weapon, but veteran forensic audio expert Paul Ginsberg told Yahoo News that he heard 10 shots on the recording — “six shots, followed by very close to three seconds of pause, followed by four more shots.”
A shot that struck the back of the teen’s upper arm could support the statements of witnesses, including Johnson, who said Brown was hit from behind as he ran from the officer. Some of those witnesses reported that Brown then turned around and raised his hands in surrender when Wilson fired the fatal shots.
A federal investigation into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights continues. The Department of Justice is also looking at how the entire Ferguson Police Department operates. The sweeping review is focusing on how officers use force and how they search and arrest suspects.
(This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.)
Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).