Among the claims that ignited the fury over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown were that Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson chased the unarmed teen on foot, shot at him as he ran away, then fired a barrage of fatal shots after Brown had turned around with his hands up.
Almost all of the witnesses who shared these accounts with media either knew Brown; lived at or near the Canfield Green apartments, where the shooting occurred; or were visiting friends or relatives there.
But there were two outsiders who happened to be working outside at the apartment complex on Aug. 9 — two men from a company in Jefferson County — who heard a single gunshot, looked up from their work and witnessed the shooting.
Both have given their statements to the St. Louis County police and the FBI. One of the men agreed to share his account with a Post-Dispatch reporter on the condition that his name and employer not be used.
The worker, who has not previously spoken with reporters, said he did not see what happened at the officer’s car — where Wilson and Brown engaged in an initial struggle and a shot was fired from Wilson’s gun.
His account largely matches those who reported that Wilson chased Brown on foot away from the car after the initial gunshot and fired at least one more shot in the direction of Brown as he was fleeing; that Brown stopped, turned around and put his hands up; and that the officer killed Brown in a barrage of gunfire.
But his account does little to clarify perhaps the most critical moment of the confrontation, on which members of the grand jury in St. Louis County may focus to determine whether the officer was justified in using lethal force: whether Brown moved toward Wilson just before the fatal shots, and if he did, how aggressively.
At least one witness has said Brown was not moving. Others didn’t mention him moving, while still others have said he was heading toward Wilson.
There is no way to determine how many witnesses have spoken to law enforcement without making public statements. The worker acknowledged that his account could be valuable to the case because he did not know either Brown or Wilson and had no ties to Ferguson.
The worker said he saw Brown on Aug. 9 about 11 a.m. as Brown was walking west on Canfield Drive, toward West Florissant Avenue.
He said Brown struck up a rambling, half-hour conversation with his co-worker.
The co-worker could not be reached for comment through his employer. He previously told KTVI (Channel 2) that he had uttered a profanity in frustration after hitting a tree root while digging. Brown heard him and stopped to talk.
Brown “told me he was feeling some bad vibes,” the co-worker told KTVI in a video that aired Aug. 12. “That the Lord Jesus Christ would help me through that as long as I didn’t get all angry at what I was doing.”
The worker interviewed by the Post-Dispatch said he paid attention to little of the conversation. He said he heard Brown tell his co-worker that he had a picture of Jesus on his wall; and the co-worker joked that the devil had a picture of him on the wall.
The co-worker told KTVI that Brown promised to come back and resume their conversation; Brown walked away, and the workers returned to their job.
About a half-hour later, the worker heard a gunshot. Then he saw Brown running away from a police car. Wilson trailed about 10 to 15 feet behind, gun in hand. About 90 feet away from the car, the worker said, Wilson fired another shot at Brown, whose back was turned.
The worker said Brown stumbled and then stopped, put his hands up, turned around and said, “OK, OK, OK, OK, OK.” He said he told investigators from the St. Louis County police and the FBI that because of the stumble, it seemed to him that Brown had been wounded.
A private autopsy showed that all but one of his gunshot wounds came while Brown was facing Wilson. Shawn L. Parcells, who participated in the autopsy, said one of the wounds to the arm could have occurred when Brown was facing away from Wilson. “It’s inconclusive,” he said. St. Louis County and federal autopsy results have not been released.
Wilson, gun drawn, also stopped about 10 feet in front of Brown, the worker said.
Then Brown moved, the worker said. “He’s kind of walking back toward the cop.” He said Brown’s hands were still up.
Wilson began backing up as he fired, the worker said.
After the third shot, Brown’s hands started going down, and he moved about 25 feet toward Wilson, who kept backing away and firing. The worker said he could not tell from where he watched — about 50 feet away — if Brown’s motion toward Wilson after the shots was “a stumble to the ground” or “OK, I’m going to get you, you’re already shooting me.”
Among people who have spoken to the media, there hasn’t been a clear consensus on what happened after Brown turned around.
Dorian Johnson — a friend of Brown’s who said he was walking with him when Wilson approached them on Canfield and told them to get off the street — told CNN that Brown was “beginning to tell the officer he was unarmed and to tell him to stop shooting.” Johnson, 22, told KTVI Brown was starting to get down when he was shot.
Johnson also told MSNBC that Wilson began shooting before Brown “could get his last words out.”
Another witness who lives nearby, Michael T. Brady, 32, told CNN that Brown turned with his hands under his stomach. He also said Brown took one or two steps toward Wilson as he was going down when Wilson fired three or four more times.
Piaget Crenshaw, who lives in the Canfield apartments, and Tiffany Mitchell, her boss, were in different places in the complex. Crenshaw told CNN that Brown didn’t move toward Wilson. In several statements to reporters, neither has mentioned Brown moving toward Wilson.
The New York Times quoted James McKnight as saying Brown stumbled toward Wilson, who was 6 to 7 feet away.
Phillip Walker, 40, another Canfield Green resident, told the Post-Dispatch on Tuesday that Brown was walking at a steady pace toward Wilson, with his hands up. “Not quickly,” Walker said. “He did not rush the officer.” Walker, who is distantly related to a Post-Dispatch reporter not involved in this report, said the last shot, into the top of Brown’s head, was from about 4 feet away.
“It wasn’t justified because he didn’t pose no threat to the officer. I don’t understand why he didn’t Tase him if he deemed him to be hostile. He didn’t have no weapon on him. I was confused on why he was shooting his rounds off like that into this individual,” Walker said.
The co-worker in the KTVI interview said he “starting hearing pops and when I look over … I seen somebody staggering and running. And when he finally caught himself he threw his hands up and started screaming, ‘OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, OK.’”
He said the officer “didn’t say, ‘Get on the ground.’ He didn’t say anything. At first his gun was down and then he … got about 8 to 10 feet away from him … I heard six, seven shots … it seemed like seven. Then he put his gun down. That’s when Michael stumbled forward. I’d say about 25 feet or so and then fell right on his face.”
No witness has ever publicly claimed that Brown charged at Wilson. The worker interviewed by the Post-Dispatch disputed claims by Wilson’s defenders that Brown was running full speed at the officer.
“I don’t know if he was going after him or if he was falling down to die,” he said. “It wasn’t a bull rush.”