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.
A year ago, Mike Brown was killed and it was his fault. That’s what you were told. That’s what you believed.
Darren Wilson’s story was that he had to kill Mike Brown because after Brown attacked him and tried to take his gun, he charged at Wilson. The publicly accepted narrative is that witnesses who supported the claim that Brown charged at Wilson—making him feel threatened and justifying the killing—were more reliable than those that didn’t and that evidence also supported their testimony. However, the grand jury evidence and testimony released by prosecutors confirm that these assertions are false.
Witnesses on charging
There were thirty-three eyewitnesses that testified to at least part of the incident between Mike Brown and Darren Wilson that resulted in Wilson killing Brown. Of those witnesses, seven did not see the final part of the altercation where Brown allegedly charged at Wilson. Twenty-two witnesses that did see it said he did not charge. Most of these witnesses said Brown appeared to be walking or stumbling. For example, Witness 17 testified that, “he walked out in the middle of the street with his hands up to his sides, that’s when … the officer fired” (Grand Jury, Vol. IX, 88-89); Witness 33 said, “He was kind of moving at him like I’m giving up, hands up” (Grand Jury, Vol. XIII, 241); and Witness 36 said, “He was kind of coming forward still, so he was going with his feet, shuffling to catch himself” (Grand Jury, Vol. XII, 186).
A St. Louis County Police detective also testified about interviewing an additional witness who said Brown had his hands up with his “palms up with his hands and fingers roughly shoulder height, elbows not touching his rib cage” and appeared to be checking his wounds (Grand Jury, Vol. VIII, 179-180). The witness also said Brown moved toward Wilson, but not in a threatening way (Grand Jury, Vol. VIII, 180, 185).
If you’re savvy at math, you have already realized that only four eyewitnesses said Brown charged at Wilson. That’s right—four out of thirty-three witnesses verified Wilson’s account that Brown charged at him, thereby threatening his life.
According to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch, “jurors were able to assess the credibility of the witnesses, including those witnesses whose statements and testimony remained consistent throughout every interview and were consistent with the physical evidence” (Statement of St Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P McCulloch). This distortion was also parroted by the mainstream media.
Listening to McCulloch, it’s easy to believe that the four witnesses must have been so incredibly reliable and convincing that jurors couldn’t have possibly believed the stories of twenty-two other witnesses. After all, if Brown was not a threat to Wilson when he shot a bullet into his head, then Wilson would be a murderer. And for many, that would have been impossible to believe. But with videos that show the killing of Walter Scott, Samuel Dubose, and others, the problem of police brutality is becoming hard to ignore.
Witnesses who said Brown was charging
In the case against Wilson, the only witnesses who said Brown was charging were Witnesses 10, 40, 26, and 48. Examining these witnesses with just a little scrutiny reveals that they were not more reliable than the witnesses who claimed Brown did not charge, nor did the evidence support their claims more. However, the prosecutors did not challenge these witnesses to the degree they did others, creating a perception that they were more credible; and when they could, the prosecutors ignored evidence that contradicted the claims these witnesses made.
Witness 40 testified in front of the grand jury on two occasions. She verified that Brown charged several times; for example, she said, “I looked back at the heavier set one, and he had, by this time bent down in the football position and had his fist made and began to charge at the officer” (Grand Jury, Vol. XV, 124).
As damning as this testimony is, other information about Witness 40 should have raised some concerns: grand jury documents showed that she was disgustingly racist and was lying about being at the scene. She repeatedly wrote racist remarks in her journal and on social media, using “the N word half a dozen times” (Grand Jury, Vol. XV, 171) and including statements like “they need to kill them fucking n****rs. It is like an ape fest” (Grand Jury, Vol. XV, 177). The FBI determined that she was lying about being at the scene and about witnessing the confrontation between Brown and Wilson. They decided they could not use her as a witness. Yet, the prosecutors decided that she should still testify in front of the grand jury.
Witnesses 26 and 48
Witnesses 26, 30, 48 and 64 are a family who claimed to have witnessed the confrontation between Brown and Wilson from their minivan on their way to visit someone in the Canfield Green Apartments. They all saw the incident together, but they have very different accounts of whether Brown was charging. According to the descriptions they gave, they were positioned far away from the scene and Wilson’s SUV was between them and the final shooting; no other witnesses recall seeing the minivan.
Witnesses 26 and 48 both testified that Brown was charging, with Witness 26 saying, “Michael turned around and then he started running, he kind of shuffled back and forth a little bit like he was confused or something. And then he started running back toward us … I couldn’t be sure if he was trying to charge the officer or run past him” (Grand Jury, Vol. XI, 179-180). Witness 48 also said, “His hands were balled up. He has his arms bent toward his chest and he’s running like, you know, almost like a tackle running” (Grand Jury, Vol. XVIII, 28). She said that after the first three shots “he was still charging at him,” but after the fourth shot “it looked like he was staggering” (Grand Jury, Vol. XVIII, 91).
The other two witnesses in the minivan disagreed that Brown was charging. Witness 30 told police, “He walked back toward the officer… he got… to within maybe six or ten feet from the officer and, … the cop shot him… He appeared to be walking” (Witness 30, interview with police, 5). Witness 64 told the FBI, “We had different stories … I said that it looked like he was stumbling, someone else said it looked like he was charging” (Witness 64, interview with FBI, 29).
The minivan was allegedly parked on Canfield Drive at the time of the incident, placing the witnesses 450 feet away from the spot where Brown’s body lay, and Wilson’s SUV was parked diagonally across the street between them and the place where Brown was killed.
The photos below show an approximate view of the location where Mike brown died from the minivan:
Finally, several witnesses who were near the alleged location of the minivan were asked what cars were around and not a single witness recalled seeing a minivan in the area. For example, Witness 37 who was in his car in the street on Canfield Drive, facing the SUV, said there was a white pickup truck behind him, but no other vehicles (Grand Jury, Vol. XIV, 42); Witness 13 remembered several cars in the street (Grand Jury, Vol. VII, 172), but when asked specifically about the minivan replied, “no, I didn’t notice it” (Grand Jury, Vol. VII, 189). The minivan witnesses testified that after Brown was shot they pulled into the parking lot next to where they had saw the incident, but when Witness 54 was asked, “Did you see a minivan pull into that parking lot right directly in front of where you had been sitting and someone get out of that minivan?” they replied, “I remember seeing the white car” (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 257).
According to the media, Witness 10 was the most reliable and important witness that more or less supported Darren Wilson’s account. According to a Washington Post headline, “Witness 10 proves Darren Wilson had a reasonable belief he needed to shoot Michael Brown.” However, Witness 10 did not corroborate the part of Wilson’s story that says Brown was punching him or grabbing his gun. Instead he said, “It appeared as though they were wrestling through the window” (Grand Jury, Vol. VI, 218) and he assumed there was a confrontation because there was a gunshot (Grand Jury, Vol. VI, 230).
Regardless, several factors about Witness 10 call the strength of his testimony into question once scrutinized. His testimony was inconsistent and vague, he was far away from where Brown was shot and had an obstructed view, and although the prosecutors didn’t appear to seek out the truth, it’s questionable if Witness 10 was even at the scene on August 9th.
Despite claims to the contrary, Witness 10 changed his testimony regarding several points. For example, he told the police that he was 100 yards (300 feet) away from the SUV (Grand Jury, Vol. VI, 227), but he told the grand jury that he was 50 to 75 yards (150-225 feet) away (Grand Jury, Vol. VI, 197).
More suspicious was Witness 10’s overall persistence in sticking with a particular narrative, while avoiding why he supported it. For example, when asked by police where Brown’s hands were when he turned around, Witness 10 replied, “Um, I know for sure they weren’t above his head” (Grand Jury, Vol. VII, 61). And when asked to enact a body gesture that he said Brown did, he replied, “I can’t say for sure what sort of body gesture, I cannot recall fully. All I know is it was not a surrendering motion of I’m surrendering, putting my hands up or anything, I’m not sure” (Grand Jury, Vol. VI, 180).
Additionally, Witness 10 was far away from the spot Brown was shot and he had an obstructed view. He supposedly saw the confrontation between Wilson and Brown from the front yard of a house he was working at, down the street towards West Florissant. That house is about 600 feet from where Brown was shot, and Wilson’s SUV and other cars in the street were between Witness 10 and Brown.
The below photos show the view from the street in front of the house:
Finally, it’s questionable if Witness 10 was even there on August 9th. He said that after Brown was killed, “[I] went into the (redacted) I was working at, and told the (redacted) what I had just witnessed and stayed in for maybe (redacted) minutes speaking with (redacted) and I came back out and that’s when I seen they were taping off the scene” (Grand Jury, Vol. VI, 186).
However, when questioned, a detective admitted that neither the homeowner nor the resident could remember the exact dates the witness was working there. The person residing in the house said “that she remembered talking to him briefly, didn’t remember what they had talked about and that she ultimately left for work” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXIV, 37-38). I would think if someone told you they just saw the police kill someone on your street that would be something you would recall.
None of this means that we know the witnesses were lying (except perhaps Witness 40) or that Brown did not charge Wilson in those final seconds. What an evaluation of these witnesses shows is that these witnesses were no more reliable than other witnesses whose testimonies did not support Wilson’s story of Brown charging at him. There is no reason to trust them more or less than other witnesses. A substantially higher number of witnesses said that Brown did not charge, and of the twenty-two of them, there were certainly more who were consistent in what they said, supported by evidence, and located closer than the witnesses who supported Wilson’s account. The difference is that the opposing witnesses were treated differently by the prosecutors, the media, and the public who wanted to believe that they were liars.
Evidence about charging
According to McCulloch, Wilson’s story and the statements of witnesses who supported his claims were also consistent with the evidence. However, the evidence does not support the main tenants of Wilson’s arguments, including his most important accusation that Brown charged him in the final seconds of the incident. We may never know if Brown charged at Wilson in those last seconds, but to claim the evidence supports Wilson’s story is absolutely false.
There are several pieces of evidence that could help determine whether or not Brown charged Wilson—Brown’s fatal injuries, blood stains, and an audio recording of the gunshots. Brown’s injuries prove that Brown did not move any further after the final gunshot—where his body lay is where he was when the final bullet hit him; blood stains in the street are the only physical evidence that could determine the furthest location Brown ran to; and the audio recording of Wilson’s gunshots provide a time frame for the distance Brown traveled. With these three pieces of evidence, we can calculate the speed Brown was moving when Wilson shot and killed him.
Injuries killing Brown
Based on the evidence, we know that Brown collapsed the instant he was shot in the head. All three doctors that examined Brown’s body testified that Brown’s injuries would have caused him to instantly collapse when he was shot in the top of the head. (Grand Jury, Vol. XX, 23-24; Vol. XX, 128; Vol. XXIII, 46). Wilson seemed to confirm this when he said, “I remember looking at my sites and firing, all I see is his head and that’s what I shot … I saw the last one go into him. And then when it went into him, the demeanor on his face went blank, the aggression was gone … I knew he stopped, the threat stopped” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 229).
This evidence confirms that Brown’s movement stopped at Wilson’s last shot and when considered with the starting point provided by the blood stains in the street and the audio recording of the gunshots, Brown’s injuries help establish the time and distance Brown moved toward Wilson.
Brown’s blood at various spots around the crime scene provided the physical evidence for the distance Brown traveled. According to the DNA technical leader with the St. Louis County Police Department Crime Lab, Brown’s blood was on the SUV (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 174-175), telling us that he was shot and bleeding before he ran from the car. There was also a significant amount of blood on the top of his socks (so we know blood was dripping from above), there were two small blood stains on the street about twenty-one and a half feet away from his body, and there was a pool of blood from Brown’s head where he died (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 174-175).
Brown’s blood droppings contradict the claim that Brown turned around close to 50 feet from where he died, since blood was dripping from Brown’s hand and arm from the time he ran from the SUV, but there was no evidence of this beyond the cluster of blood drops (evidence marked 20) that was twenty-one and half feet from his body (Vol. XXIV, 87-88). While he was running he could have kept his arm against his body so the blood could have been absorbed by his clothes, but once he stopped and turned around he either put his hands up to surrender as many witnesses claimed, or down to his waistband as Wilson claimed.
Whatever Brown did when he stopped and turned around, it is difficult to believe that he did not drip any blood in that spot, but left a spot of several drops of blood at one random spot along the route of his charge toward Wilson. Instead, the evidence suggests that Brown turned around at the point where there was a bloodstain on the street, twenty-one and a half feet from his body. Number 20 marks the bloodstain that is the furthest point of physical evidence that indicates where Brown ran to; it is 21.5 feet from where he died.
In the pictures, it appears that the larger stains are several drops of blood in the same spot meaning Brown was standing in this spot and not just running past it. Comparatively, the bloodstains marked 19 are a trail, meaning that Brown was in motion. No one testified if the stains in marker 19 suggest which direction he was heading at the time these blood drops hit the pavement, but they are significant when compared to the marker 20 cluster because they indicate motion.
Despite evidence that contradicted this, almost everyone, including prosecutors and media outlets, used a point at around 50 feet beyond where Brown’s body laid as a marker for where he turned around. A St. Louis police detective confirmed, “the exact location where Michael Brown turned around is just based on various witness accounts” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXIV, 51).
It was so obvious that the 50-foot marker wasn’t supported by any evidence that a juror (not a prosecutor) highlighted the use of disputed eyewitness testimony, not supported by evidence to determine Brown’s distance in this exchange:
Juror: “So as far as physical evidence, we have the blood on the ground that was about 21 or 22 feet from where Michael Brown ended up. So we know for a fact that’s a minimum distance he might have advanced and from eye witness testimony that placed him at the corner of Coppercreek, that dimension looks like it is closer to 48 to 50 feet; is that correct? … if I did the calculation right that was 21 and a half feet?”
Detective: “Yes, sir.”
Juror: “Physical evidence.”
(Grand Jury, Vol. XXIV, 87-88).
When asked, how far he thought Brown charged at him, Wilson said “at least fifteen feet,” which is much less than fifty, but pretty close to twenty-one and a half (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 13).
Audio recording of Wilson’s gunshots
The third piece of evidence is an audio recording of Wilson’s final ten shots. We know from a verified sound recording of the shots that it was a total of 6.57 seconds from the point Wilson started shooting until his last shot.
Wilson testified repeatedly that Brown ran through the shots. For example, he said that Brown “looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 228) and the shots “had no effect” and Brown just “continued towards him” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 110) and “he hadn’t slowed down” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 228). He told the St. Louis Police that, “After the first round of shots … he still hadn’t gone down and was still coming just as fast as he was” (interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 13).
Wilson said that after he fired multiple shots, he “paused for a second, yelled at him to get on the ground again,” but Brown was still charging, his hand was still in his waistband, and he hadn’t slowed down. Here Wilson says he fired another round of multiple shots and again, “same thing, still running at me, hadn’t slowed down, hands still in his waistband.” Then Brown got about eight feet from Wilson, still coming the same way, and Wilson fired more shots. One of those final shots, Wilson says, hit Brown in the head and “he went down right there” (interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 10).
Now Wilson testified that once Brown moved toward him, he gave commands before shooting, saying, “His first step is coming like a stutter step to start running. When he does that, his left hand goes in a fist and goes to his side, his right one goes under his shirt in his waistband and he starts running at me. … As he is coming at me, I tell, keep telling him to get on the ground, he doesn’t. I shoot a series of shots” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 227-229). However, even if we assume Wilson started shooting the instant Brown moved (giving Brown the least possible amount of time to cover the distance)—which is a favorable assumption for Wilson—then Brown had 6.57 seconds to cover twenty-one and a half feet. That’s a slow pace. Definitely walking. According to the evidence.
Wilson also claimed that when Brown fell, “he had so much momentum carrying him forward that when he fell, his feet kind of came up a little bit and then he rested” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 229-230). However, one doctor that examined Brown’s body confirmed that Brown was not in motion at the time he collapsed; when asked, “Are the abrasions severe enough that you think the victim would have been in motion at the time of the fatal shot or could he have been standing at the time of the fatal shot, absorbs that amount of friction just by simply falling from a standing position?” they replied, “falling and hitting the ground … That’s how that happened in my opinion” (Grand Jury, Vol. IV, 161).
Witnesses and evidence on whether Brown’s hands were up
Despite the repeated claims in the press (even from the so-called “liberal media”) that Brown never put his hands up, and that the protest chant of the Black Lives Matter Movement, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” was based on a lie, there is still no reason to believe that Brown did not put his hands up when Wilson shot him. Based on the evidence, it’s possible that Brown had his hands up and was surrendering to Wilson. While there are conflicting claims about this, there is no way to be sure that Brown was not surrendering.
It’s true—there is an absence of forensic evidence that supports the claim that Brown had his hands up; however, there is equally a lack of evidence supporting the claim that Brown never had his hands up. This just isn’t something that the evidence could determine either way. So based on the factual evidence, there’s no reason for people to believe and be adamant that Brown did not have his hands up.
The three forensic pathologists who performed autopsies on Brown repeatedly explained it was impossible to determine the arm and hand positions of Brown when he was shot. One forensic pathologist said it’s difficult to answer questions about which position Brown’s hands were in because “arms can do all sorts of things in three dimensional space” (Grand Jury, Vol. XX, 100).
Two doctors testified that based on the gunshot wound, Brown could have been shot in the forearm while he had his hands up. One said Brown could have gotten the wound if his hands were up “if the palms [faced] outward” and the shooter was at an angle or the arm was slightly rotated (Grand Jury, Vol. IV, 102). Describing the gunshot wound, another forensic pathologist said depending on how the arm was turned, “it could be arms up, could be arms way up” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXIII, 65-66). When asked, “you’re saying that this injury to this forearm could have occurred with his hands up?” they replied, “yes” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXIII, 67).
The forensic pathologists even said that one of the other controversial claims of eyewitnesses—that Wilson shot at Brown as he ran away—was possible. They said, “If you are asking me could a shot from his backside produce that [wound], I say yes” (Grand jury, Vol. XX, 102). Another forensic pathologist who worked for New York State Police for 50 years confirmed this point, saying of the gunshot wound, “this would support being shot from behind. It didn’t hit his back, but from behind” (Grand Jury, Vol. XXIII, 67).
Additionally, eyewitness testimony overwhelming supports the claim that Brown’s hands were up. Of the witnesses who claimed to have seen the entire end of the confrontation between Brown and Wilson, twenty-three said Brown put his hands up and one said he did not (three other witnesses testified that they didn’t see his hands up, but they did not see the entire encounter from the time Brown turned around through when he was killed). When the witness most favorable to Wilson was asked where Brown’s hands were when he turned around, Witness 10 replied vaguely, “I know for sure they weren’t above his head” (Grand Jury, Vol. VII, 61).
Witnesses described where Brown’s hands were in a variety of ways. Most witnesses did not describe Brown as having his arms straight up above his head; rather most seemed to say they were out to the side and around shoulder height. For example, Witness 18 said Brown’s arms were slightly bent at the elbows by his sides, palms facing forward, and fingers pointing to the ground (Grand Jury, Vol. X, 34-35). Others said Brown’s hands were around shoulder length, for example: Brown, “had his hands shoulder high, just a little bit above his shoulders, but they were away from his body” (Witness 14, Grand Jury, Vol. VIII, 36), and “arms about shoulder length” (Witness 44, Vol. XVII, 25). Witness 25 indicated Brown’s arms were somewhat parallel to the floor, palms out, fingers up, and hands about level with his head (Grand Jury, Vol. XI, 150).
Of the four witnesses in a minivan, two were considered favorable to Wilson because they said Brown charged him. Referring to Brown’s hands, one of them, Witness 26, said, “he threw his hands up, then he put his hands down, … then he started running” (Grand Jury, Vol. XI, 179). Witness 48 testified, “his hands were open at first … he [lifted them to] like shoulder length … and then he balled his hands up and … started charging” (Grand Jury, Vol. XVIII, 86).
The most surprising witness to say Brown put his hands up was none other than Darren Wilson himself!
The sergeant who was on duty at the crime scene testified twice that Wilson had told him that Brown put his hands up:
Prosecutor: “Is it still, you still stay with the fact that Michael Brown had his hands up and was charging?”
Sergeant: “That’s what Darren told me, he was charging at me.”
(Grand Jury, Vol. V, 64).
Prosecutor: “I believe you said in that statement that Officer Wilson told you that Michael Brown took off running and he stopped and raised his arms and charged him?”
Sergeant: “Yes, ma’am … it was like he was going to charge him.”
(Grand Jury, Vol. V, 72).
When Wilson was interviewed by the detective assigned to his case, he changed his story and said Brown stopped, turned around, and took his right hand and moved it to his waistband. He said Brown then screamed something he couldn’t understand and began to charge him (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 109). In front of the grand jury, when asked under oath, “At any point did Michael Brown raise his hands?” Wilson responded, “No.”
While it’s easy for many Americans to believe the narrative they are told by the justice system and the media, it’s clear that an honest evaluation of witnesses and evidence do not support the claims that Brown was a threat to Wilson when Wilson shot him in the head. Wilson supported this claim by saying that Brown charged at him. He said he thought in the moment, “I know if he reaches me, he’ll kill me” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 230). But there is clearly not enough evidence to support his story. And without such evidence, Wilson should have been put on trial.