Scattered reports of gunshots and growing outrage from onlookers drew an unusually high number of police officers to the scene of Michael Brown’s fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, according to transcripts of testimony released by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. The documents suggest initial investigations at the site were delayed because of safety concerns.
Established timelines of the events of Aug. 9 state officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, about noon after a brief scuffle. Wilson testified he acted in self-defense after Brown charged his police car while Brown supporters asserted he had attempted to surrender. "Hands up, don't shoot" was a central rallying cry during months of protests against police brutality in Ferguson. Ultimately, a grand jury declined Monday to indict Wilson, citing a lack of probable cause Wilson had committed a crime.
The decision prompted renewed protests on a national level. Demonstrations turned violent in Ferguson where furious protesters destroyed police cars and looted local businesses amid outrage over Wilson's exoneration. But testimony from individuals at the shooting site in August reveals public outrage at police handling of the Brown shooting began almost immediately.
A St. Louis County crime scene detective tasked with documenting evidence at the site said in testimony he received a call to respond to the scene about an hour after Brown was shot. The situation at the shooting site was already tense, and reports of shots fired nearby prompted the detective to don his bulletproof vest.
The detective, a five-year veteran of the county’s crime scene investigation unit whose name was redacted from court documents, navigated through “standstill” traffic and arrived at the shooting site. “Hundreds of pedestrians” had congregated and Brown’s body still lay in the street, obstructed by barriers. The detective met with first responders, completed an initial walkthrough of the site and prepared to follow up with a video walkthrough. But the sound of new gunshots brought his efforts to an immediate halt.
“As far as the exact times, I couldn’t tell you, but during this time when we were heading back to my car, another round of gunshots were fired and extremely close proximity to the crime scene,” the detective said. “There was obviously a large crowd reacting to that as well as a police reaction to it.”
He continued: “And the decision was made almost immediately to kind of hold, make sure that our crime scene was secured. I have to be able to concentrate what I’m looking at and trying to collect, versus trying to watch the crowd behind me that’s growing ever bigger and more angry by the minute.”
Investigation efforts of any kind stopped -- all police manpower was dedicated to securing the area around the shooting site. Approximately 50 police officers from Ferguson and surrounding districts were involved, an unusually high number. All the while, Brown’s body remained in the street, to the dismay of the growing crowd.
Authorities called for the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office to send a medical legal investigator around 1:30 p.m., but the individual did not arrive at the scene until about 2:30 p.m. Delays to the initial investigation prevented the investigator from beginning his work until about 3:30 p.m., but the timeline was not out of the ordinary for a homicide case, he said, according to the grand jury documents.
By then, the crowd had mostly calmed though bystanders continued to question why Brown’s body was still in the street. Brown’s grandmother -- described by the investigator as “very pleasant” -- urged the crowd to move back and give investigators room to work.
But Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, was “crying hysterically,” the investigator said. Later, she told NewsOne.com police would not allow her to identify Brown’s body, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“There were some girls down there had recorded the whole thing ... [one] showed me a picture on her phone. She said, ‘Isn’t that your son?’ I just bawled even harder. Just to see that, my son lying there lifeless, for no apparent reason,” she said.