The shooting of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this month by police officer Darren Wilson has sent shockwaves through the nation's political and law-enforcement establishments.
Accounts of what happened during Brown's final moments vary significantly. Most agree that there was a verbal exchange on the street followed by a scuffle between Brown and Wilson, with Brown outside the car leaning in, or being pulled in. During this exchange, Wilson's gun went off, and Brown and his friend ran. Wilson then got out of his car and fired at Brown, who stopped and turned to face the officer.
This is the part where the various witness accounts diverge and the most significant differences creep in. Some witnesses claim that Brown had his hands up and was gunned down. Wilson, and reportedly some witnesses, claim that Brown charged him, forcing him to fire.
Dorian Johnson, 22, who was with Brown at the time of the shooting, was quoted in USA Today as saying that following a verbal altercation, Wilson tried to pull Brown through the window of his patrol car, a significant deviation from the officer's account.
"[Then] he says, 'I'll shoot.' A second later the gun went off and he let go [of Brown]," Johnson reportedly said, denying that Brown had tried to reach for Wilson's weapon.
Describing the moment Brown, who by all accounts accept was not armed, turned to face the officer, Johnson said: "My friend started to tell the officer that he was unarmed and that he could stop shooting. Before he could get his second sentence out, the officer fired several more shots into his head and chest area. He fell dramatically into the fatal position. I did not hear once he yell freeze, stop or halt. It was just horrible to watch."
Another witness, Tiffany Mitchell, 27, said that Brown was shot while he had his hands up.
“After the shot, the kid just breaks away. The cop follows him, kept shooting, the kid’s body jerked as if he was hit. After his body jerked he turns around, puts his hands up, and the cop continues to walk up on him and continues to shoot until he goes all the way down,”
CNN reported that an account of the shooting from the officer's perspective, which was phoned in to a St. Louis radio station, was consistent with the investigation's understanding of Wilson's version of events.
The account, from a woman calling herself "Josie," says that after a verbal exchange, the officer tried to get out of his cruiser but was pushed back inside by Brown. She then alleges that Brown punched Wilson and tried to grab his gun, which subsequently went off.
According to her account, Brown and his friend then fled and were pursued by Wilson, and asked to stop. When Brown turned around, he began taunting Wilson and then charged him at full speed. Wilson then fired on Brown, killing him. The New York Times reports that, according to investigators, “some witnesses” have backed up the account, but the paper gave no further details.
However, another witness, Michael Brady, 32, who lives on the street where the incident took place, contradicted the claim that Brown had charged at Wilson.
Speaking to Anderson Cooper, Brady described Brown as “facing the officer... he's balled up... he had his arms under his stomach and he was... going down and the officer lets off three or four shots at him." Asked by Cooper if he had seen, as the officer's account suggests, Brown running toward the officer, Brady said that he did not.
It is worth noting that not all witness accounts have been made public at this time, so further testimony about the incident may emerge. A grand jury hearing into the shooting was opened Wednesday by the St. Louis County prosecutor.