WASHINGTON — It’s a scene that plays out thousands of times every year all over America: A white police officer stops a black teen he thinks is up to no good. The teen resists; there’s an exchange of profanities and maybe an arrest. Mostly, these events are forgotten, except perhaps by those involved. But a handful are not. That’s what happened in Ferguson, Mo., where an Aug. 9 encounter between Michael Brown and officer Darren Wilson ended in death, explosive violence, protest, and another bout of national soul-searching about race.
The September testimony Wilson delivered to the grand jury, released Monday after a prosecutor announced that Wilson would not be charged, provides the first and most detailed account directly from Wilson of Brown’s shooting. It varies from many previously published stories — and accusations — about an officer who brazenly shot a youth trying to surrender, some said, with his hands up.
On an August day, Wilson drove down a street and saw two young black men walking down the middle of the road. One wore a black shirt. The other held cigarillos. The details of a robbery that day, blared out on a police radio, clicked into Wilson’s head. Were they suspects? He told the young men, one of whom was Brown, to move to the sidewalk.
Things then happened very quickly. Wilson said Brown was at his car window, enraged. Wilson said Brown hit him in the face, grabbing for his gun. Two shots fired. Brown bolted down the street. Wilson pursued. As Wilson told it, Brown charged the officer, reaching into his pants. Wilson raised his .40-caliber Sig Sauer and aimed for a lethal shot.
‘‘All I see is his head, and that’s what I shot,’’ Wilson recalled during a Sept. 16 grand jury session in St. Louis.
Wilson told the story of three minutes of hot confusion, shattered glass, a misfired gun, fear, and a look of anger that came across Brown’s face that Wilson said made him ‘‘look like a demon.’’ Wilson said he hasn’t recovered from the moment. ‘‘I’m just kind of in shock of what just happened,’’ he told the grand jury. ‘‘I really didn’t believe it because like I said, the whole thing started over ‘will you just walk on the sidewalk.’ ’’
After he told the men to get out of the street and walk on the sidewalk, Wilson recalled Brown turning to him.
‘‘Brown then replied, ‘[expletive] what you have to say.’ And when he said that, it drew my attention to Brown. It was [a] very unusual and not expected response from a simple request,’’ said Wilson, who decided the men were possible robbery suspects. He radioed for backup and cut them off with his car, peering out at Brown from inside his squad car.
‘‘As I’m opening the door, he turns, faces me, looks at me, and says, ‘What the [expletive] are you going to do about it,’ and shuts my door, slammed it shut,’’ Wilson said. ‘‘. . . He was just staring at me, almost like to intimidate me or to overpower me.”
Wilson told Brown to ‘‘get the [expletive] back,’’ but Brown allegedly hit Wilson in the side of his face ‘‘with a fist
. . . . There was a significant amount of contact that was made to my face,’’ Wilson testified.
Was mace an option? Wilson said he decided against it: ‘‘The chances of it being effective were slim to none. His hands were in front of his face.’’
There was only other option he said he had. ‘‘I drew my gun. . . . He is standing here. I said, ‘Get back or I’m going to shoot you.’ He immediately grabs my gun and says, ‘You are too much of a [expletive] to shoot me.’ ’’ The men struggled for the gun, and Wilson pulled the trigger.
Nothing. ‘‘It just clicked,’’ Wilson testified. ‘‘I pull it again. It just clicked.” The gun finally goes off, and the car’s interior explodes with shattered glass and globs of blood. Wilson looked at the unarmed teen and the teen looked back. ‘‘He looked up at me and had the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up.’’ But then, Wilson said Brown hit him again, and Wilson couldn’t get his gun to work. It clicked again, until it finally discharged a second time.
Brown took off running, Wilson said.
Brown stopped running at a light pole and confronted Wilson. Wilson said he yelled at the youth to get on the ground. ‘‘When he looked at me, he made like a grunting, like aggravated sound and he starts, he turns, and he’s coming back towards me,’’ Wilson recalled. ‘‘His first step is coming towards me, he kind of does 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.’’
Wilson opened fire. He missed a few times. But he also hit Brown, who ‘‘flinched.’’ What Wilson remembered as ‘‘tunnel vision’’ came over him.
Wilson took aim at Brown’s head for the shot that would kill the unarmed teen. ‘‘When he fell, he fell on his face,’’ Wilson recalled. ‘‘I remember his feet coming up . . . and then they rested.’’