Hundreds of pages of witness statements came out Monday night after the Ferguson grand jury released its decision not to indict white police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in August. Bystanders' accounts included misstatements and exaggerations called out by prosecutors who asked about not only the case, but also their criminal records, health and media diets.
Activists continued to protest police violence and race relations across the country Tuesday after learning the 12-person Missouri grand jury found no probable cause to charge Wilson with Brown's death. The jury heard the case for three months and reviewed testimony from 60 witnesses, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said Monday night at a news conference.
The legal proceedings were hard to follow in the documents. Most of the time the court played recordings of statements followed by in-person testimony, but sometimes they only played audio or distributed interview transcripts. Technical difficulties sometimes shuffled the order in which the jury saw evidence.
Witness credibility was an issue, as well, McCulloch said. Many openly admitted they didn't want to be there. Some had searched for the case's details online, and at least two were convicted felons. One woman was called back after reading her diary and remembering new details. Witnesses waffled, often contradicting themselves, and others got defensive when called out for distorting the truth. At one point, a prosecutor asked, "And why did you say that if it wasn’t true?" "I do not know,” the witness answered. None of the witnesses was identified in the testimony released to the public.
Four witnesses confessed to having vision problems, which was problematic for prosecutors relying on them to describe the scene of the shooting. Another couldn't hear well, and at least two mentioned having memory problems. One witness had multiple personalities and took 14 medications a day.
Brown did not have a weapon, but at the time, at least two witnesses said they thought he did. "He's about my size, young black guy, and he looked like he was pointing," one witness told the grand jury. "I can't tell one finger or two, I can't tell what he had in his hand, but I thought I saw a glint. I believe it was a gun."
Three witnesses minimized the fight between Wilson and Brown, calling it a "scuffle" where they were "tussling" and "fussing." Another said Brown's whole upper body was inside Wilson's car. "The big dude, Michael Brown, like he got mad kind of," one person said. "He just went immediately to the drivers' window and they got into it."
Running at Wilson
Once Brown broke away from the window, he reportedly began running down the street. Two witnesses said Wilson got out of his car and grabbed Brown by the collar. Then Brown started to charge at Wilson like a football player, one witness said. "His hands were balled up," another said. "He has his arms bent towards his chest and he’s running like, you know, almost like a tackle running." Someone else contradicted that, saying Brown's arms were loose at his sides and he walked toward Wilson.
Hands up, don't shoot
The witnesses were split over whether Brown was holding his hands up -- now a symbol for Ferguson protesters. After the first shot, "his palms were out facing forward, they were about at his ears," one witness said. "That meant surrender, that meant 'Take me to jail.'" But another said he was sure Brown's hands were down.
It was unclear whether Brown asked Wilson not to shoot. "It was a scream, like if the bullets is piercing his skin," one witness said. Another said Wilson was the one screaming at Brown, asking him to stop.
Falling to the ground
Some said Brown was kneeling when Wilson shot him -- "I seen my friend Big Mike on his knees with his hands in the air," his cousin said -- but others remembered him standing, holding his wound. Brown “started to lean forward like this and then he kind of fell on his knees and smacked the ground on his face,” one person said. Another witness had a different version: "He fell face forward. There wasn't no pause on his knees or nothing. It was just straight down."
How many gunshots
The numbers vary depending on who's being questioned: three, seven, nine, 12. Brown's autopsy report later showed six bullet entrance injuries. “I seen the one hit him in the face because you could see like the blood splatter," one witness said. "You couldn’t really see the bullets themselves, but you seen like the blood fly away from his face.” Others said they couldn't see blood at all, and one witness thought Wilson Tasered Brown.