Michael Brown Shooting

Police Now Claim Michael Brown Was a Robbery Suspect UPDATE: Admit Officer Didn't Know That When Interaction Started

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Michael Brown
via NBC News

This morning the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) identified Darren Wilson as the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown on Saturday afternoon. Despite some claims around the internet, this is not the same Wilson who heads a St. Louis police organization called "Police for an Ethical Society." That Wilson, who is black, is a cop in St. Louis proper.  No photo of Ferguson's Wilson is yet available.

The FPD did, however, post a still from surveillance footage it claims shows Michael Brown in the act of robbing a convenience store of a box of cigars. The claim is being cited by police apologists as important in the context of the shooting of Michael Brown. In my two and a half years covering police brutality issues here at Reason (and before that a year and a half of doing the same on Freedom Watch), and in my years of reading about these kinds of stories, I have never come across an incident where someone suspected of a crime who was shot by cops wasn't immediately identified as such in initial news reports. Cops make sure this information gets out, because they believe it will strengthen their narrative, provide the right context for their shooting. It's impossible to say for sure that Wilson didn't know Brown was a robbery suspect when he engaged him, but if he did know it, police have no compelling reason, and have given none, for why that information was withheld.  Considering that mainstream media are often quick to give cops the benefit of the doubt, police identification of Brown as a "suspect" may have kept the national media from covering the story at all.

The FPD says Wilson has no previous disciplinary record, although they did not release even excerpts of his personnel record. In the meantime, the Daily Beast uncovered a horrific case of police brutality in Ferguson in 2009. Then, a group of Ferguson cops picked up the wrong Howie Davis and then tried to accuse the one they had in custody with property damage, for getting blood on their uniform after they beat him up. When Davis sued, they denied he got blood on their uniform. They are still employed by the FPD as far as I can tell. They've even countersued Davis. (PDF) In 2010 they were among a few dozen officers who got commendations from the mayor and city council (PDF). Now please tell me how protections negotiated by police unions aren't part of the problem.

UPDATE: The FPD's police chief has admitted Wilson did not know Brown was a robbery suspect when the interaction began, making it irrelevant to the question of whether the shooting was justified.