This post is part of a series, “Challenging Accepted Narratives on Mike Brown and Notions of Justice,” which reexamines and challenges the publicly accepted narrative surrounding Mike Brown’s death. The series illustrates that what most people accepted as the truth, was simply not so. You can read the introduction to the series here.
According to Darren Wilson, when he saw two teenagers, Dorian Johnson and Mike Brown, walking in the middle of the street in Ferguson, he stopped and respectfully asked, “why don’t you guys walk on the sidewalk?” Johnson replied, “we’re almost at our destination.” As Brown continued walking and passed the rearview mirror of Wilson’s Chevy Tahoe, Wilson said, “what’s wrong with the sidewalk?” Brown supposedly replied, “fuck what you have to say.”
While Wilson had multiple versions of his story, in one he claims that this moment was when he realized Brown was carrying Cigarillos that were reported stolen from a nearby convenience store moments earlier; so Wilson backed up his SUV to confront the teens.
Wilson described the encounter: “I go to open my door and say ‘hey, come here for a minute’ to Brown. As I’m opening the door he turns faces me, looks at me and says ‘what the fuck are you gonna do about it’ and shut my door, slammed it shut” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 208-209). Forced to respond, Wilson told Brown to “get the fuck back” and used his door to push him, but Brown used his bodyweight to again close the door on Wilson. This began the pummeling, where a demon-like thug named Mike Brown, without provocation, began to pound on Wilson’s face, forcing him to shoot and kill the unarmed teen: at least that’s what you believe.
Let’s be honest – you likely believe Wilson’s story for a variety of reasons: Possibly you’re unaware of the deep-rooted impacts of white supremacy and racism in America. Maybe you haven’t thought through the systematic oppression both perpetrated by the police and resulting from mass incarceration—you probably haven’t needed to. Perhaps, despite the overwhelming amount of video evidence to come out in other cases (Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Samuel DuBose) you still refuse to believe that police officers have murdered innocent citizens because they wouldn’t tolerate young black Americans standing up for their rights or challenging authority. Even though a lack of video evidence, and perhaps concern, allows you to maintain your assumptions about Mike Brown, there are no pieces of evidence or eyewitness accounts that prove Brown attacked Wilson unprovoked. Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence that shows Wilson lied and grossly exaggerated Brown’s confrontation with him in order to justify murdering him.
Wilson’s fictitious rewriting of the encounter is intense. Wilson tells a story where a monstrous Brown beats him repeatedly, but he heroically manages to overpower the goliath, saving his own life. He recounts Brown had immediately “started swinging and punching at [him] from outside the vehicle.” He said, “when [Brown] shut the door a second time … [Brown] enter [the] vehicle with his hands, arms, and his head … assaulting [Wilson]” (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 5). Brown was swinging wildly, and began striking Wilson in the chin, face, shoulders, and chest (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 103). Throughout the struggle Wilson had his hands up to protect himself, deflecting some blows, but still getting hit in the face (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 210). According to Wilson, Brown made contact with his face over ten times and at least two times on both sides of his face with solid blows (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 11).
One of the full swings even knocked Wilson back and stunned him (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 6 and Grand Jury, Vol. V, 103-104). Wilson describes fearfully grabbing Brown’s arm like “a five year old holding on to Hulk Hogan” (Grand Jury Vol. V, 212) and recounts that Brown was “obviously bigger … and stronger” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 216). He told a grand jury that he had to draw his weapon because Brown had already hit him twice in the face and he said a third punch could knock him out or be “fatal if he hit me right” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 216). They struggled over the weapon until Wilson could finally get a shot off; even after Brown was shot, Brown stepped back and Wilson says, “he looked up at [him] and had the most intense aggressive face.” The only way to describe Brown, he said is, “it [looked] like a demon, that’s how angry he looked.”(Grand Jury, Vol. V, 224-225). And Brown reengaged, swinging wildly (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 9). Wilson shot a second time and Brown fled.
Despite Wilson’s accusations of wild, aggressive, and life-threatening attacks from Brown, eyewitness accounts, the evidence collected, and expert testimony don’t support his claims.
Of the twenty grand jury witnesses who claimed to have seen the confrontation at the SUV, only two witnesses said that Brown hit Wilson. One was Witness 40, whose overtly disgusting racism was highlighted by statements like, “they need to kill them fucking n****rs. It is like an ape fest” (Grand Jury, Vol. XV, 177). She was also an advocate for Darren Wilson. And the FBI determined she was lying about being at the scene (Grand Jury, Vol. XV, 174-175) (Criticisms of witnesses who were favorable to Wilson will be discussed further in this series). The second witness was Witness 34, who was just leaving from the Canfield Green Apartments complex. He said he saw Brown hit Wilson, but also described the scene as a struggle between Wilson and Brown. He said, “the police and the young man, they were struggling. The young man was standing outside the window and the police inside the window. And he had a hold of the young man, and the young man had a hold of him, and they are struggling with one another” (Grand Jury, Vol. XIII, 15). “He had ahold of Mike real close through the window and the officer, both of them struggle to hit one another” (Grand Jury, Vol. XIII, 23).
Even witnesses who were the most supportive of Wilson throughout the grand jury proceedings did not confirm Brown was hitting him. Witness 48, a woman who was in a minivan with her parents and sister, said, “I don’t really know what [Brown] was doing. I know he had his back to me… His hands were in front of him” (Grand Jury, Vol. XVIII, 22). “I don’t know if his hands were in the vehicle” (Grand Jury, Vol. XVIII, 24). Her mother, Witness 26 said Brown was standing at the driver’s side window with his arms extended in front of him, maybe touching the car (Grand Jury, Vol. XI, 5). “He looked like pretty much he had his hands directly pretty much in front of him standing at the car looking like he was just talking” (Grand Jury, Vol. XI, 173). She said after the shots “he backed away from the car and he… was like standing there for a minute and then he took off running” (Grand Jury, Vol. XI, 176).
Most witnesses who saw the confrontation at the SUV said there appeared to be some kind of struggle going on like “wrestling,” “tug of war,” or “tussling,” but couldn’t see exactly what was happening. For example, Witness 44, a woman who was walking back to her apartment from the library said, “It looked like some struggle cause he was like bobbing in and out like they were doing something … I couldn’t exactly see what was going on … but his actions looked like some type of fight” (Grand Jury, Vol. XVII, 18). Five witnesses explained that they couldn’t really see what was going on because they were partially blocked by the SUV, but they could tell there was some kind of struggle happening; three of them were quite far and looking from behind Brown.
Of the eleven remaining witnesses who claimed to see the confrontation at the SUV from a good angle, eight of them testified that Brown appeared to be trying to pull away from Wilson. For example, Witness 45—who said the first physical thing to happen when Wilson backed up the car was him grabbing Mike Brown (Grand Jury, Vol. XVII, 97-98)—said Wilson “went to go and grab him, that’s when they started tussling … he grabbed him from the outside, just grabbed him” (Grand Jury, Vol. XVII, 92). She said it was as if Brown was “trying to get away” (Grand Jury, Vol. XVII, 99). Witness 43 said, “I saw the man like trying to pull away from the police, pull his arm out of the police car”(Grand Jury, Vol. XVI, 112); Witness 16 said, “It looked like he was trying to yank away” (Witness 16’s interview with FBI, 21), and Witness 37 said, “Mr. Brown struggling to get away from the officer … the officer was holding onto Mr. Brown, pulling him towards him as Mr. Brown forcing to get back away from him.” (Grand Jury, Vol. XIV, 13).
Dorian Johnson and Witness 57 both said Brown’s hands were against the outside of the car (Johnson, Grand Jury, Vol. IV, 51; Witness 57, Vol. XX, 177). They both said, Wilson was grabbing Brown’s shirt (Johnson, Grand Jury, Vol. IV, 49; Witness 57, Vol. XX, 181) and “Mike pushed off the car” (Witness 57, Vol. XX, 181) and was “trying to pull off the officer’s grip” (Johnson, Grand Jury, Vol. IV, 51). Johnson said one of Brown’s hands was on the top of the SUV (Johnson, Grand Jury, Vol. IV, 51). A swab from the top exterior of the front door revealed Brown’s DNA, supporting Johnson’s claim that Brown was in contact with that area at some point (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 178).
Again, most of the witness testimony did not clarify whether Brown was the aggressor or if he was just trying to get away, and only one credible witness claimed to see Brown hit Wilson at all.
Wilson’s injuries and clothes
More telling was Wilson’s lack of injuries and how negligible his few injuries were. Wilson complained of injuries to the left and right sides of his face and scratches to the back of his neck. Several witnesses confirmed there was redness and swelling to Wilson’s face and scratches on his neck.
A sergeant with Ferguson Police Department, after arriving at the scene saw the side of his face starting to swell up, especially around his mouth and along his left eye (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 38-39). A detective who interviewed Wilson a while later could see reddening to the left and right side of the jaw and said the right side appeared slightly swelled (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 91-92).
The physician’s assistant with North County Emergency Physician’s Group who checked Wilson at the hospital said his main complaint was the right side of the jaw and there was a little redness and several linear marks on his neck consistent with fingernail scratches (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 80-82). Wilson said his pain was a six out of ten, and he described it as aching (from several given choices) (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 73).
Even though a few people confirmed that Wilson’s face was wounded, his injuries were suspiciously insignificant considering the story he told about his fight with Brown. He claimed that Brown beat him viciously, but he only had a little redness on both of his cheeks and some small scratches.
The injuries to Wilson’s face were shockingly minor
Despite the terrifying description of a demon-like Brown swinging wildly with blows that could be fatal, where Wilson, afraid for his life, was desperately trying to deflect a barrage of attacks, his injuries were shockingly insignificant.
A detective with the St. Louis County Police Department who interviewed Wilson could see the marks on Wilson’s face, but said he never complained about a head injury (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 96). Wilson also said in his testimony that when EMS showed up, looked at him, and asked what had happened, he said he was hit in the face. They asked where and he had to point it out to them. He also told them he hadn’t lost consciousness, his vision wasn’t blurry, and he didn’t need to go to the hospital (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 247-248).
When asked, “did you notice any swelling on Darren Wilson’s face,” the physician’s assistant from the hospital replied, “Nothing significant, no” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 78). Wilson complained of “very, very mild pain to the left side of the jaw,” but the physician’s assistant didn’t notice any issues to the left side of the jaw (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 82). Wilson didn’t have difficulty moving his jaw and had no deformities (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 74); no swelling on the neck and he didn’t complain of pain there (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 84); he didn’t complain of eye, tooth, head, or nose pain and there was no evidence of injury in those areas (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 87); and he was X-rayed and there were no additional injuries (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 85).
The physician’s assistant diagnosed him with a contusion of the mandibular (meaning a bruise or inflammation of the soft tissue on the jaw) (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 77) and prescribed Naprosyn 500 milligrams (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 71).
To clarify the injuries, the physician’s assistant described bruising: “A bruise is caused by broken blood vessels. So the harder the punch, the harder the impact, the more likely you are to have more blood vessels start to bleed, that’s what creates that purple discoloration as that blood kind of seeps out underneath the layer” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 86). However, pictures taken three days later showed the redness resolved and no “purple discoloration that sometimes follows contusions,” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 84) leaving the physician’s assistant to conclude, “It was likely that the impact just involved the very superficial capillary layers, as opposed to deeper tissue which would result in the deeper purple bruising” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 86).
Wilson’s injuries were so insignificant, they were even hard to see in the photos taken for evidence. During his testimony in front of the grand jury, prosecutors showed Wilson pictures of his face from when he went to the hospital, both and prosecutors and Wilson had trouble seeing the injuries. (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 219-222). When they asked Wilson about the swelling, he had troubling identifying it, saying, “I think there was swelling to my face in that area too. I never saw my face after, this is the first I’ve seen” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 221).
Here is an exchange between Wilson and prosecutors as they looked at photos of the supposed injury on his face:
Wilson, showing a picture, said “that one looks like it has bruising and swelling on it.”
P: “Where is the swelling to your face on that one?”
W: “It was my right side, that was the main injury.”
P: “Point to it for us.”
W: “Right in this area.”
P: “That’s the swelling to your face?”
(Grand Jury, Vol. V, 219-220).
Even Wilson had trouble finding his injuries in the pictures:
A prosecutor asked, “Describe what you are looking at.”
W: “I can’t really tell from that.”
W: “I can’t really see from this angle.”
P: “Let me let you look at it again.”
W: “I think there was swelling in my face in that area too.”
P: “Does it look like swelling? You know your face better than we do …?”
W: “I can’t tell with that one with the ruler.”
P: “ … What about this one?”
W: “That one I can tell from down by my, this area looks like swelling to me”
(Grand Jury, Vol. V, 221).
Then they examined pictures of his neck meant to show scratches, which were similarly hard to see:
The prosecutor asks, “This is Number 33 and you say you can see scratches on the back of your neck?”
W: “Right in here.”
P: This is Number 54. And you can kind of point to where the red marks are on you neck?”
W: “It’s hard to see on that. It’s in this area right here.”
W: “It’s hard to tell from the pictures and that angle. I think the best one was looking straight forward at me”
(Grand Jury, Vol. V, 222).
The physician’s assistant also testified that there is a little bit of redness in the photograph, but it’s hard to see (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 83).
Furthermore, it’s unbelievable that Wilson avoided any other injuries to his face, body, or arms and any damage to his clothes. Although Wilson said he was blocking Brown’s full blows with his left arm and that Brown was in the window striking his chin, face, shoulders, and chest (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 103), he had no other injuries. A detective said that he didn’t see other injures and Wilson didn’t mention others (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 91-92). Wilson also confirmed for the grand jury that he had no additional injuries to his hands (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 219).
Wilson said the right side of his jaw had the main injury. But when sitting in the driver’s seat, while shielding himself and blocking Brown with his left hand, his right side would be further away and nearly impossible for Brown to hit with his right hand. It would even be difficult to hit with the left hand. Regardless, with these repeated powerful blows from a demon-like criminal, Wilson didn’t have any injuries to his jaw, eyes, or his prominent nose. Wilson only had some redness on his cheeks that did not even bruise.
Other than having Brown’s blood on his pants, Wilson’s clothes were quite intact. After an alleged violent altercation with repeated blows to the face, scratching, grabbing, and pulling, a detective testified that there were no stains, tears, or defects in the fabric of Wilson’s shirt, his name tag badge was still fastened to his shirt, and his Velcro pocket was still closed (Grand Jury, Vol. VIII, 198-201).
While Wilson clearly had some redness on his cheeks, the injuries do not amount to his hyperbole-filled tale of barely surviving a vicious and wild beating by a demon. Instead, they seem to show, at best, a minor altercation between an officer and a citizen that could have been initiated by either party, and at worst, an officer faking injuries to justify a murder he committed in the heat of the moment.
Other pieces of evidence also make Wilson’s claims very suspicious
Fingerprints and Cigarillos
Wilson maintained through his various accounts that after backing up his SUV to engage Brown and Johnson, he attempted to exit the vehicle, but couldn’t because Brown pushed the door closed. Detectives actually lifted fingerprints from the exterior of the front driver’s side door, but did not find Brown’s prints. They found three sets of fingerprints that were sufficient to make identifications; the fingerprint examiner for St. Louis Police Department testified that one of the prints was Wilson’s and the other two did not belong to Brown (Grand Jury, Vol. XI, 126-128).
Wilson said the first blow in the altercation was from Brown’s right hand and connected with the left side of Wilson’s face (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 155). Wilson also said the Cigarillos were in Brown’s right hand. He testified that while Brown was punching him with the Cigarillos in his hand, “it stopped for a second. He kind of like, I remember getting hit and he kind of like grabbed and pulled and then it stopped.” Then, with the Cigarillos in his left hand, Brown says, “Hey man, hold these” to Johnson and passed the Cigarillos to him. The prosecutor asked Wilson “were there any broken Cigarillos or anything in your car later?” and he replied “no, I don’t remember seeing anything on the ground or anything” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 211). There were no broken pieces of Cigarillos in the SUV, on the street, or anywhere else.
The orange emergency alert button
One of the essential claims of Wilson’s supposed heroic encounter with Brown was that, while being pummeled by repeated blows of a “demon,” Wilson still fell back on his training to make sure he was using the appropriate amount of force. He repeatedly testified that while in the midst of attacks, he thought through the triangular diagram that dictates use of force for police officers before determining that the only option was to shoot Brown. However, if Wilson truly feared for his life at any point, he could have pushed the orange emergency alert button on his radio that all officers are regularly trained to use.
Emergency orange alert buttons are on all police officers’ portable and mobile (vehicle) radios; when they push the button an alarm goes off at dispatch (Grand Jury, Vol. XXI, 96 and Vol. XVIII, 171). Officers are trained that if they are in an emergency situation, they hit that button (Grand Jury, Vol. XVIII, 167-168). The sergeant said it is “one of the first things [officers] are taught on is that alert tone because that’s their lifeline” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXI, 53-54).
When an officer hits the orange button, it doesn’t matter what channel they are on or if there is radio traffic; it will revert back to dispatch and keep transmitting until the dispatcher acknowledges it (Grand Jury, Vol. XVIII, 166-167).
The Chief of Police in Ferguson said officers test their alert buttons occasionally and he “would expect any time there is a physical confrontation that would be a useful tool.” When asked, “And if, you know, shots are fired, certainly you would expect someone to use that button,” he replied, “Yes, ma’am” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXI, 196). A dispatcher with the City of Ferguson also testified that if shots were fired or if an officer discharged his weapon, you would expect him to push the orange button if they had a chance to (Grand Jury, Vol. XXI, 165).
But Wilson didn’t push the button – despite claiming he was in fear for his life, while in his vehicle and Brown supposedly punched him in the face repeatedly, almost having his gun taken from him and when Brown charged at him. Even though he claims he strategically thought through the progression of force and was able to reach down and grab his gun, and had time when Brown ran from him, Wilson never just reached down and pushed the button that he was trained to use as his lifeline.
Brown’s lack of injuries and DNA evidence
Wilson claims Brown was attacking him viciously through the SUV window with some blows landing on Wilson’s face and others being blocked by his hands and arms. Yet, Brown didn’t have any marks or injuries on his hands or arms that suggest he was attacking Wilson. A medical legal investigator from the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s Office who examined Brown’s body at the scene said Brown had abrasions on the back of his left hand and the right side of his face (Grand Jury, Vol. I, 50), but no other marks on his hands (Grand Jury, Vol. I, 68). They also said the abrasions on the left hand and forehead “looked more like a road rash abrasion as opposed to an altercation abrasion” (Grand Jury, Vol. I, 75).
Furthermore, after Brown supposedly punched Wilson repeatedly in the face, Wilson’s DNA was not found on the backs of Brown’s hands or knuckles (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 195). And even though Wilson had minor scratches on the back of his neck, Wilson’s DNA was not found under Brown’s fingernails on either hand (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 194-195).
Despite the headlines surrounding this case, there is little evidence that supports the parts of Wilson’s story where he disagrees with most of the eyewitnesses. From these examples, it is clear that some evidence also makes his story look quite questionable.
Wilson had time alone in his car
Wilson lied about another crucial detail—what he was doing after the shooting. The truth is, Wilson sat in his car alone while other officers examined the scene. Wilson told the FBI that after he killed Brown, he walked to his SUV, opened the door, turned the engine off, and closed the door. After that he said his sergeant pulled up, he talked to him, and then he took the sergeant’s vehicle back to the station (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 236). He said he did not get in the SUV (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 170-171). However, the sergeant on duty testified that Wilson was in his car the whole time he was at the scene, until he told Wilson to get in the sergeant’s vehicle and leave (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 29). He even testified that when he talked to Wilson, Wilson was staring at the dashboard (Grand Jury, Vol. V 38). And while Wilson didn’t specify to the grand jury whether or not he sat in the SUV, he did say the sergeant told him to go sit in the car (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 236).
If Wilson wanted to fabricate his injuries to make his story more believable, he had the time to do it. It’s suspicious that Wilson had scratches on his neck and red marks on his face, while Brown didn’t have Wilson’s DNA under his nails or on his hands. Additionally, the sergeant testified that the shirt of Wilson’s uniform was disheveled and kind of pulled out of the waistband (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 38-39). However, photographs taken from a video of Wilson pacing over Brown’s dead body reveal his shirt was still neatly tucked in after the confrontation.
Referring to the injuries on Wilson’s face, the physician’s assistant was asked if “You could see redness to the face [if] nobody was even struck” and they replied, that their belief that Wilson’s injuries were from a punch was only based on Wilson’s own account (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 87-88). Then when asked, “if you rub your face too hard with your hand, you could get redness to it. … And not have a broken blood vessel to give a bruise?” the physician’s assistant replied, “Yes, right” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 88). Additionally, a juror pressed, “could an arm keep rubbing on a face, could that have made the face red?” and they replied, “Yes” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXII, 95).
It’s clear that Wilson’s injuries, already minor for what would be expected from his story, could very well have been created or enhanced to help him justify his actions.
The majority of Americans don’t need to worry about these details. It’s easier to remain ignorant and live in a world where there are good guys and bad guys. But if the killing of Mike Brown proved anything, it’s that most Americans don’t care enough about police murders of young black men to question the narrative they are given. It’s easier to pretend that police officers don’t manipulate cases. It’s easier to believe that a prosecutor would never throw out a case to prevent a cop from going to trial. It’s easier to believe that Brown attacked Wilson, and Wilson, against all odds survived and took out a criminal – even though eyewitness testimony and evidence clearly prove that Wilson was lying.