FERGUSON, Mo. — As a county grand jury prepared to hear evidence on Wednesday in the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer that touched off 10 days of unrest here, witnesses have given investigators sharply conflicting accounts of the killing.
Some of the accounts seem to agree on how the fatal altercation initially unfolded: with a struggle between the officer, Darren Wilson, and the teenager, Michael Brown. Wilson was inside his patrol car at the time, while Brown, who was unarmed, was leaning in through an open window.
Many witnesses also agreed on what happened next: Wilson’s firearm went off inside the car, Brown ran away, the officer got out of his car and began firing toward Brown, and then Brown stopped, turned around, and faced the officer.
But on the crucial moments that followed, the accounts differ sharply, officials say. Some witnesses say Brown, 18, moved toward Wilson, possibly in a threatening manner, when the officer shot him dead. But others say Brown was not moving and may even have had his hands up when he was killed.
The accounts of what witnesses have told law enforcement officials come from some of those witnesses, law enforcement authorities, and others in Ferguson. Many of them spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The new details on the witness accounts emerged as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was scheduled to visit Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with FBI agents who have been conducting a civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Holder and top Justice Department officials were weighing whether to open a broader civil rights investigation to look at Ferguson’s police practices at large, according to law enforcement officials. The issue came up after news reports revealed a 2009 case in which a man said that four police officers beat him, then charged him with damaging government property — by getting blood on their uniforms.
Under Holder, the Justice Department has opened nearly two dozen such investigations into police departments nationwide, more than twice as many as were opened in the previous five years.
Also Tuesday, a few miles from Ferguson, St. Louis Metropolitan police officers shot and killed an emotionally disturbed 23-year-old black man. The shooting threatened to further inflame a community still reeling from Brown’s death.
Sam Dotson, the chief of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, said two officers encountered a man at the Six Stars Market in northwest St. Louis behaving “erratically” and brandishing a knife. The officers repeatedly warned, “Stop, drop the knife,” but he refused, Dotson said. The man approached the officers, knife raised, and was shot after he came within three or four feet, the chief said.
As clashes in Ferguson continued on Tuesday, federal authorities learned the results of an autopsy performed on Brown by military coroners that showed that he had been shot six times, though they declined to release further details until their investigation was finished. An autopsy conducted on behalf of Brown’s family also found that he had been shot at least six times — including once in the face and once in the top of his head — with all bullets striking him in the front. The county has also done an autopsy, which found evidence of marijuana in Brown’s system.
The Brown family has scheduled a funeral for Monday. In a statement Tuesday night, Governor Jay Nixon expressed sympathy for the Brown family and praised residents for “standing against armed and violent instigators.” But he also said that “a vigorous prosecution must now be pursued.”
The fatal confrontation began on Aug. 9 shortly after the police received reports that two men had robbed a convenience store in Ferguson. Wilson, who was not responding to the robbery, had stopped to speak with Brown and a friend, Dorian Johnson. The Ferguson police chief, Thomas Jackson, said that it was around the time that Wilson started talking to the two that he realized they fit the description of the suspects in the convenience store robbery.
A lawyer for Johnson said that his client was interviewed by the FBI and the St. Louis County Police last week for nearly four hours. In that interview, Johnson admitted that he and Brown had stolen cigarillos from the store, said the lawyer, Freeman R. Bosley Jr.
Bosley said that the officer told the two to get off the street. They got into a verbal dispute with the officer about whether walking in the street constituted a crime, Bosley said.
Contrary to what several witnesses have told law enforcement officials, Bosley said that the officer then reached out of the window with his left hand and grabbed Brown by the throat. He said Brown pushed him off, and the officer then grabbed Brown’s shirt.
“My client sees the officer pull a gun and hears him say, ‘I’ll shoot you’ — then ‘pow!’ there was a shot,” Bosley said, referring to the one that apparently went off in the car.