Justice Department Condemns Ferguson Leaks

23 Oct 2014

The Department of Justice has condemned recent leaks to the media suggesting evidence being heard by the grand jury in the Michael Brown shooting case is favorable to police officer Darren Wilson.

A spokesman for the DOJ told the LA Times, " The department considers the selective release of information in this investigation to be irresponsible and highly troubling. Since the release of the convenience-store footage, there seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case."

The convenience store footage was released by Ferguson police in August. Reports at the time said the DOJ had learned of the video, which showed Michael Brown robbing a convenience store shortly before the shooting, and asked the police not to release it. Critics of the release said it was an attempt to frame the victim in a negative light.

The DOJ statement comes after several outlets have revealed leaked information from the ongoing case this week. Yesterday the Washington Post published a story characterizing testimony given to the grand jury. On Tuesday the St. Louis Post Dispatch published a leaked version of the autopsy report. And last week the NY Times published a story outlining what officer Wilson had told investigators.

The LA Times reports that critics of the leaks think they will harm confidence in the results. Alderman Antonio French who has been heavily involved in demonstrations connected to the case tells the Times, "A non-transparent grand jury process and a leaky investigation is not the way the outcome of this important case should be determined."

The leaks have generally been seen as supportive of officer Wilson's story and are certainly at odds with some of the early reports. As told by Brown's friend Dorian Johnson, officer Wilson was the aggressor throughout the incident. He nearly backed his car over the two men, then opened his door into them, then reached out and tried to pull Brown inside the car and choke him and then he ultimately shot him as Brown tried to surrender.

As relayed by the NY Times, officer Wilson's version of events is very different. He claims there was a struggle inside the car where Brown punched him in the face and then went for his gun. This led to two shots being fired in the vehicle. Wilson also claims that after he got out of the car, Brown stopped running, turned and started moving back toward him.

According to the Washington Post, "seven or eight African American eyewitnesses have provided testimony consistent with Wilson’s account, but none of them have spoken publicly out of fear for their safety."

As in the case of the Trayvon Martin shooting, some of the events connected to the shooting of Michael Brown seem to have entered the realm of mythology where they remain unchanged by fact. The image which became the defining one for the Ferguson protests was "hands up, don't shoot." This was based on early eyewitness reports that Brown was running away or had his hands raised in surrender when officer Wilson fatally shot him.

But the hands up gesture may not be accurate according to a pathologist who looked at the leaked autopsy report. She told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the wounds appeared consistent with someone moving forward not with someone who was standing still with palms up.

Leaks may not be defensible as a matter of law, but after two months in which the agitators with the loudest voices have been telling mostly one side of this incident, they may be a public service.