Two new eyewitness accounts have emerged of the police shooting that killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper reported Saturday.
The accounts could offer fresh insights into Brown’s death, which triggered days of sometimes-violent protests after the Aug. 9 shooting in the St. Louis suburb and ignited a national debate on police practices in black communities.
Most of the witnesses who have publicly emerged so far have either been tied to Brown or to the community where he was shot. But the latest witnesses – who the Post-Dispatch said gave statements to the St. Louis County police and the FBI – provided rare outside accounts of the alleged altercation between Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, and white police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown shortly afterward.
One of the two men, speaking on the condition that his name not be used, shared his testimony with a Post-Dispatch reporter, the newspaper said.
It said the two witnesses, employees of a company in nearby Jefferson County, were working at the apartment complex where the shooting occurred.
The witness who spoke to the Post-Dispatch reportedly said he and his co-worker heard a single gunshot before looking up and witnessing the incident from about 50 feet away.
Although he was quoted as saying he did not see what happened at the officer’s car – where Wilson and Brown allegedly engaged in an initial struggle and a gunshot was fired – his account corroborates much of what other witnesses have said: that Wilson chased Brown on foot after the first gunshot, and fired at least one more shot in Brown’s direction as Brown was fleeing.
It also matches accounts saying Brown had stopped, turned around, put his hands up and was then killed by more gunfire from the officer.
But the latest eyewitness account apparently does little to clarify the crucial issue of whether the officer was justified in using lethal force – a question that depends on knowing whether Brown moved aggressively toward the officer just before the fatal shots.
At least one witness has said Brown was not moving. Of those who said he was heading toward the officer, none have said Brown charged aggressively at Wilson – a claim made by Wilson’s defenders – the Post-Dispatch said.
The worker interviewed for the report also disputed claims that Brown was running full speed at the officer.
The worker was quoted as saying he saw Brown at around 11 a.m. – about an hour before Brown was shot – as the teenager was walking down the street along Canfield Drive.
He said Brown began a half-hour conversation with his co-worker, the newspaper reported, adding that Brown then left and the workers returned to their job.
The worker reportedly said he heard a gunshot about half an hour later, then saw Brown running away from a police car and an armed Wilson taking chase, trailing Brown by 10 to 15 feet.
Wilson then fired another shot at Brown, whose back was turned, the worker was quoted as saying.
He said Brown then stumbled and stopped, turned around with his hands raised and said, “OK, OK, OK, OK, OK,” the Post-Dispatch reported.
Because of the stumble, the worker said it appeared to him that Brown had been wounded.
A private autopsy showed that one of Brown’s wounds could have occurred when Brown was facing away from Wilson – but the findings were “inconclusive,” according to Shawn L. Parcells, who participated in the autopsy and spoke to the Post-Dispatch.
After Brown stumbled and turned, the report said the officer stopped with his gun raised, about 10 feet in front of Brown.
Brown, with his hands still raised, then allegedly moved. “He’s kind of walking back toward the cop,” the worker was quoted as saying.
The officer then began firing and backing away from Brown, according to the witness account. After the third shot Brown reportedly lowered his hands and moved about 25 feet toward the officer, who kept backing away and firing, the worker said.
He said he could not tell whether Brown’s movement toward the officer was “a stumble to the ground” or “OK, I’m going to get you, you’re already shooting me,” the Post-Dispatch reported.
But the worker rejected claims by the policeman’s defenders that Brown had charged the officer. “I don’t know if he was going after him or if he was falling down to die,” he said in the report, adding, “It wasn’t a bull rush.”