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Grand jury won't indict Ferguson officer in shooting

FERGUSON, Mo. - A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked weeks of sometimes-violent protests and inflamed deep racial tensions between many African Americans and police.

Lesley McSpadden (wearing sunglasses), the mother of Michael Brown, reacts to the announcement in Ferguson, Mo. CHARLIE RIEDEL / AP
Lesley McSpadden (wearing sunglasses), the mother of Michael Brown, reacts to the announcement in Ferguson, Mo. CHARLIE RIEDEL / APRead more

FERGUSON, Mo. - A grand jury has decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown, the unarmed, black 18-year-old whose fatal shooting sparked weeks of sometimes-violent protests and inflamed deep racial tensions between many African Americans and police.

Within minutes of the announcement Monday evening by St. Louis County's top prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, crowds began pouring into Ferguson streets to protest the decision. Some taunted police, shattered windows, and vandalized cars. Several gunshots were also heard. Officers released smoke and pepper spray to disperse the gatherings.

A grand jury of nine whites and three blacks had been meeting weekly since Aug. 20 to consider evidence. The panel met for 70 hours and heard from 60 witnesses. McCulloch stressed that the grand jurors were "the only people who heard every witness . . . and every piece of evidence."

Speaking for nearly 45 minutes, McCulloch repeatedly cited what he said were inconsistencies and erroneous witness accounts that ultimately were inconsistent with the physical evidence. When asked by a reporter whether any of the accounts amount to perjury, he said, "I think they truly believe that's what they saw, but they didn't."

Brown's family released a statement saying they were "profoundly disappointed" in the decision but asked that the public not engage in violence and "channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change."

As McCulloch was reading his statement, a crowd gathered around a car from which it was being broadcast on a radio. When the decision was announced, Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, who was sitting atop the car, burst into tears and began screaming before being whisked away by supporters.

The crowd erupted in anger, converging on the barricade where police in riot gear were standing. They pushed down the barricade and began pelting police with items, including a bullhorn. Police stood their ground.

Outside the Ferguson Police Department, St. Louis County police used a bullhorn to order a crowd to disperse, saying it had become an unlawful assembly. Protesters continued to hug the barricade and taunt police, sometimes with expletives. Some chanted "murderer." Minutes later, four gunshots were heard down the street and somebody threw a water bottle that bounced off a police shield.

Some in the crowd reportedly tried to stop others from taking part in vandalism and other violent reactions.

Later, protests did grow more violent, and police began to use pepper spray on the crowd.

Elsewhere, thousands of people flooded city streets from Los Angeles to New York in passionate - but initially peaceful - protest.

They led marches, waved signs, and shouted chants of "Hands Up! Don't Shoot," the slogan that has become a rallying cry in protests over police killings across the nation.

Activists had been planning to protest even before the announcement of the grand jury's decision.

In Los Angeles, police officers were told to remain on duty until released by their supervisors. While about 100 people gathered in Leimert Park, others held a small news conference demanding police change their policies and release as quickly as the names of those killed the names of the officers who shot them.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock urged protesters to be peaceful in that city, where a civil jury last month found deputies used excessive force in the death of a homeless street preacher.

At Cleveland's Public Square, at least a dozen protesters held signs Monday afternoon referencing police shootings that have shaken the community there, including Saturday's fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who had a fake gun at a Cleveland playground when officers confronted him.

Lawyers for Wilson, meanwhile, issued a public statement saying, in part, that Wilson "followed his training and followed the law" when he shot Brown, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

At least nine votes would have been required to indict Wilson. The panel met in secret, a standard practice for such proceedings.

The Aug. 9 shooting inflamed tensions in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb that is patrolled by an overwhelmingly white police force. As Brown's body lay for hours in the center of a residential street, an angry crowd of onlookers gathered. Rioting and looting occurred the following night, and police responded with armored vehicles and tear gas.

Protests continued for weeks - often peacefully, but sometimes turning violent, with demonstrators throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and police firing smoke canisters, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon briefly summoned the National Guard.

Hours before the announcement, Nixon urged people to remain peaceful as he appeared at a news conference with the state's public safety director and the leaders of St. Louis city and county.

"Our shared hope and expectation is that regardless of the decision, people on all sides show tolerance, mutual respect and restraint," Nixon said.

Some black leaders and Brown's parents questioned McCulloch's ability to be impartial. The prosecutor's father, mother, brother, uncle, and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect in 1964. McCulloch was 12 at the time, and the killing became a hallmark of his initial campaign for elected prosecutor.

Nixon declined to seek the removal of McCulloch in the Brown case, but he also called for McCulloch to vigorously prosecute Wilson, who had been on the Ferguson force for less than three years. Prior to that job, Wilson was an officer for nearly two years in Jennings, another St. Louis suburb.

McCulloch, a Democrat, has been in office since 1991 and was reelected to another term this month.

Among the cases that McCulloch's opponents cited as examples of pro-police bias was the 2000 shooting death of two men in a fast-food parking lot by two undercover drug officers in the town of Berkeley, which like Ferguson is a predominantly black suburb in what locals call North County.

A federal investigation determined that Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley were unarmed and that their car had not moved forward when the officers fired 21 shots. But that inquiry also determined that the shootings were justified since the officers feared for their lives.

McCulloch opted to not prosecute the two officers and characterized the victims as "bums" who "spread destruction in the community" by selling drugs.

Notable Names

A look at some of the key figures in the case:

Michael Brown

Michael Brown graduated from Normandy High School last spring and was preparing to attend Vatterott College, where he planned to study to become a heating and air conditioning technician. Relatives and friends described Brown as a quiet, gentle giant who stood around 6-foot-3 and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He was unarmed when he was killed. Police said later that he was a suspect in the "strong-arm" robbery of a convenience store moments before the shooting.

Darren Wilson

Some descriptions of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson are similar to those of Brown. Both men have been described as gentle and quiet. Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson had no previous complaints against him and a good career record. Wilson began his career in nearby Jennings before moving to the Ferguson job several years ago. He was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting.

Police Chief Thomas Jackson

Thomas Jackson was a police veteran long before he came to Ferguson. He spent more than 30 years with the St. Louis County Police Department, at one point serving as commander of a drug task force. Before that he was a SWAT team supervisor, undercover detective and hostage negotiator. He heads a department with 53 officers, only three of whom are black, in a town where nearly 70 percent of the 21,000 residents are African American.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch

Since his election in 1991, Bob McCulloch has been the top prosecutor in St. Louis County. A Democrat with a reputation for being tough on crime, he comes from a law-enforcement family. He was 12 years old when his father, a police officer, was shot and killed by a black suspect in 1964. Some critics, including St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, questioned McCulloch's ability to be objective in the Ferguson case.

Police Capt. Ron Johnson

During a 27-year career, Capt. Ron Johnson climbed from patrolman to chief of the 11-county division of the Missouri State Highway Patrol that includes St. Louis and its suburbs. Back in August, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Johnson to take command of security in Ferguson. Johnson's calm but commanding presence drew high praise from many observers. When Johnson, who is black, walked down the streets of Ferguson with protesters, many demonstrators shook his hand or posed for photos with him.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon

Events in Ferguson could have a significant effect on the political future of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. His experience in confronting crime includes overseeing Missouri's long record of executions. During Nixon's four terms as attorney general and two terms as governor, Missouri has put 66 convicted killers to death, a total few states can match. Nixon drew some criticism in the days immediately after the shooting for keeping a low profile, but he soon moved to the forefront, putting state police in charge of security and then calling in the National Guard to help quell the violence.

Attorney Benjamin Crump

Benjamin Crump became a national figure when he represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager fatally shot by a neighborhood-watch volunteer in 2012. Now he's back in the spotlight, representing Brown's family in another racially charged death. Crump was born in North Carolina, one of nine children. To him, the issue is simple. "I don't want to sugarcoat it," Crump said in August. Brown "was executed in broad daylight."    - AP