The sound of gunfire drew witness 120 to the window of his sister’s third floor apartment. What he saw next is unbelievable. As the police officer emerged from his patrol vehicle, 120’s best friend, Michael Brown, dropped to his knees in surrender right in the middle of the street. Blood was oozing from his left shoulder and ribcage, indicating he’d already been shot multiple times.
With his back to the police vehicle, Brown turned to Dorian and said “run for your life.” As the officer approached, Brown made his last desperate plea. “Please don’t shoot me.” The officer, undeterred by this plea for mercy, pointed his gun at Brown’s head. Point blank, he pulled the trigger. Brown crumpled to the ground but it wasn’t over. The officer then stood over Brown, firing eight more shots into his lifeless body.
None of this is true of course. What witness 120 claims to have seen is unbelievable because his story can’t be believed. Not only does the evidence prove it to be false but he admitted he made it up. He told investigators later that he never saw any injuries to Brown, never saw the officer exit his cruiser, and was running down the stairs of the apartment building while the last shots were fired. 120 used “common sense” (his words, not mine) to create this testimony.
In this episode, we are going to talk about how this virus, the false narrative about Ferguson, became the dominant one. Why were so many people like witness 120 lying on national news about what they saw, if they saw anything at all? But before we discuss the testimonies, we need to talk about the investigation which collected them. We are picking up this story just after the final shot was fired.
Officer Wilson was likely in shock when backup arrived. Just one minute later, the officers requested a supervisor respond to the scene. This is standard procedure when force is used during an incident and when this happens, every officer on the channel knows things just got physical. It is step one in a very long and meticulous investigative process when deadly force is used by an officer.
Four minutes later, Ferguson PD was calling for assistance from St. Louis County Police Department. Now every officer on the channel assumes the worst. Following typical investigative procedures for an officer involved shooting, FPD turned the investigation over to SLCPD. Officers soon began to arrive to protect the crime scene and keep the peace. This would prove much more difficult than expected.
As the cogs of the investigative machine began to turn, residents of the Canfield Green Apartments and surrounding area began pouring out onto the streets. They could see a man lying in a pool of blood in the middle of Canfield Drive. Naturally, everyone was wondering what had happened, who shot him, and if the suspect was still on the loose. The rumors began to spread like a virus through the community.
Another six minutes passed before the growing crowd began to chant about killing the police. Things were beginning to heat up, the temperature of the community was rising, the infection was taking hold. People were screaming at the police to help the young man but no paramedics were allowed in. They didn't understand they were looking at a crime scene, not a rescue call.
Often times rescue personnel, with the noblest of intentions, rush into crime scenes to save a person’s life that can’t be saved. The only thing they do accomplish is the destruction of important evidence. Medics were not allowed to render aid to Michael Brown because there were obvious signs of death, namely two gunshot wounds to his head. Michael Brown was dead and no one could change that.
This initial investigation took five and a half hours; Brown’s body was on scene for almost four of those hours. The investigation has drawn plenty of misguided and uneducated criticism for this; but moving his body would have been the most disrespectful thing anyone could have done to Michael Brown at that moment. The physical evidence collected from the scene just after the shooting is Michael Brown’s testimony. The only way his family would ever know the truth (should they choose to accept it) was for the scene to be processed thoroughly, with his body present.
These investigations aren’t quick by any means, even under ideal circumstances. Missing something at this point in the game could prove catastrophic to our ability to piece together the truth. The situation on Canfield Drive was far from ideal, however. The very people demanding something be done with Brown’s body were largely responsible for it being left in the street for so long.
The timeline of this investigation is a clue to the volatility of the environment it was being conducted in. At 1243, the Crimes Against Persons unit was notified to respond to the scene. While waiting for them to arrive, gunfire was heard on two separate occasions. As a result, additional canine and patrol officers were called to the scene to assist with crowd control and to protect the scene. Not only were they trying to investigate this incident, but they are trying to keep the civilians and officers on scene safe. This became more and more difficult as time went on.
At 1:55 and 2:11pm, automatic gunfire was heard in the area. That’s right, automatic gunfire. This wasn’t just some kid running around popping off rounds from his 9mm Glock. In case you’re not aware, automatic weapons, with a scant few exceptions, are illegal. The only people who have them are either collectors or very dangerous criminals. Again, both times gunfire was heard, additional units were called to the area and the investigation was put on hold.
Meanwhile, some members of the crowd began chanting, “kill the police.” I may be guessing here, but I doubt any of the investigators wanted this investigation to take five and a half hours. To their credit, they did take their time, despite the dangerous environment around them. If they hadn’t, should they have rushed, we may never have known what happened between OfficerWilson and Michael Brown. Thanks to their diligence, we have a body of evidence which has been instrumental in clearing up the fog surrounding this incident.
During the initial few hours after the shooting, investigators interviewed witnesses at the scene. One week later, the FBI canvassed 300 residences in the area to collect more witness testimonies. Both the SLCPD and FBI jointly interviewed over 100 people claiming to have information about the incident.
They also monitored media outlets and social media platforms to identify further possible witnesses. If someone was seen on a news program or social media site claiming to have witnessed the shooting, they were tracked down and interviewed. Interestingly enough, not one of them had even witnesses the shooting. According to the DOJ report, “All of these purported witnesses, upon being interviewed by law enforcement, acknowledged that they did not actually witness the shooting, but rather repeated what others told them in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.”
The Department of Justice mentions 41 witnesses in its report. There are two main categories of witnesses: credible and inconsistent. The credible witnesses gave statements which aligned with the physical evidence and were internally consistent. The inconsistent witnesses made statements we know to be false because they either directly contradict hard evidence or because they contradict their own previous statements.
One of the easiest ways to figure out if someone is telling the truth is to keep them talking. If the witness is relying on real memories to tell their story, the testimony will remain relatively constant over time. These witnesses were interviewed multiple times by investigators, some made statements to the media, and others testified in front of a grand jury. If there were unexplainable differences between their own accounts, the witnesses was considered unreliable.
Of the 17 credible witnesses, eight were found to support Officer Wilson’s testimony and nine were neutral, meaning nothing they said directly supports or contradicts his testimony. How many credible witness statements contradicted Officer Wilson’s testimony? Zero. Every single witness claiming Wilson executed Brown, shot him in the back, or with his hands in the air made statements which either contradicted known evidence or their own previous statements.
There were 24 witnesses who provided inconsistent statements to investigators. Many of them were placed in front of news cameras, telling graphic stories of a white officer executing a young black man for no apparent reason at all. It begs the question: Why did the false narrative about Ferguson become the primary one? To answer this, we must look at the motives of these witnesses and the community’s relationship with the police.
The story about Ferguson I told in episodes one, two and three of the podcast series took into account the credible witness testimonies. So I’m not going to spend much time talking about their individual stories. But I think it is important to discuss their motives for coming forward so you can see how much pressure there was to give in to the false narrative. Of the seven credible witnesses who saw the event and support Wilson’s testimony, five of them noted pressure to either stay quite or lie about what they saw.
Witness 102, a 27 year old bi-racial male, was confronted by two black women recording with their phones, who asked him to change his story. When he declined, they began yelling racial slurs at him, which really aren’t worth repeating. He soon left the area because he became uncomfortable. What these two women were trying to accomplish, silencing the truth, almost worked. 102 only called in to report what he saw the next day because he wanted Michael Brown’s family to have closure; to know that the officer didn’t get away with murdering their son.
Witness 103 was a 58 year old black man. From the driver’s seat of his truck, which was directly next to Officer Wilson’s police vehicle, he witnessed Brown punching Wilson in the face, Wilson using his radio to call for help, and Brown charging Wilson. 103 had done time in a federal prison and had a son who had been shot by the police. Needless to say, he held no particular allegiance to law enforcement. He also expressed concern for his safety, noting the signs in the neighborhood which stated, “snitches get stitches.” Despite all of these forces, he provided a testimony that supported Officer Wilson’s use of deadly force against Michael Brown.
Witnesses 108, 109 and 113 all feared community reprisals should they tell the truth about what they saw. All three of them refused to testify in the grand jury hearing due to this fear. Witness 113 even lied initially because she was afraid of the backlash. When asked why she lied, she responded by stating, “You’ve gotta live the life to know it.” Despite this, all of them did provide testimonies that support Officer Wilson’s and are in line with the evidence.
As you can see, all of these witnesses, who's testimonies corroborate (support) Darren Wilson’s, had every reason not to tell the truth. They didn’t come forward because they were pro-police, racist, or for any other ulterior motive. Despite the risks involved, they refused to give into the community’s pressure; to lie about what really happened. The opposite, as you are about to see, is true for many of those who supported the “hands up don’t shoot” mantra and execution-like version of events.
So let’s look at the stories that were told by the infected, the people who chose to support a lie and make it their own. There are far too many “stories” here to cover, but I’ve broken down the reasons why, at least according to them, these people lied about what they supposedly saw. To say all of them intentionally lied would be presumptuous and unfair; there is no way to know another person’s motive with certainty. It is well established that our minds are fickle, latching onto things that fit within our predisposed views of the world, filling in the holes in our memory without us even knowing, often creating memories that are only true in part but seem like fact to their owner.
For example, during a high stress incident, a witness might be distracted. When this happens, they often miss parts of the encounter and have a nasty habit of filling in the blanks later. Witness 127 does just this.
Audio of 127
During the struggle and ensuing gunfire, she was driving her vehicle while trying to get her phone to record video, finding a parking spot in a nearby lot, and eventually exiting her vehicle. She provided testimony we know to be false but denied that her distractions could have affected her ability to accurately perceive the event. She seems to believe what she is saying is true, but she is either denying or ignorant of the limitations of the human brain.
Assumptions and Common Sense
Witness 137 was a 40 year old black male who also filled in a few blanks. He had quite an interesting story to tell based on what he said was a “clear visual” memory of the events. He described the final moments of Brown’s life as an execution. According to him, Officer Wilson shot Brown in the back, causing Brown to stop, turn around, and walk toward the officer who was closing the distance. From an arm’s length, Wilson then supposedly fired every round into Brown, finishing him off by standing over him and shooting him in the head “execution style”, despite Brown’s desperate plea, “don’t shoot.” This convicted murderer later admitted his story was based on “assumptions on the sound of the bullets and ‘common sense’ from living in the community.”
Witness 127 supported the “hands up don’t shoot” mantra in her media interview.
127 AUDIO CLIP
Her testimony was later found to be false, based on assumptions, and influenced by rumors from others in the community.
There were many other motivating factors at play. Several witnesses noted empathy toward Michael Brown and his family. Witness 126’s godson had been shot by the police, witness 121’s mother had lost a child and witness 133 expressed sorrow due to the fact that she had a teenage son herself. Witnesses 119 and 125 were out for their 15 seconds of fame. Both readily admitted they lied because they wanted to be part of the investigation. Others suffered from mental issues, negative experiences with the police, or just poor vision. Regardless of their motivations, some of these witnesses had a small impact in the spread of this virus, while others played a key role.
I’ve been using this virus metaphor because rumor and hearsay spread in much the same way. HIV, for example, spreads within the human body by injecting its genetic code into a cell. The cell is then re-wired to become a factory for more HIV virions. Eventually the cell explodes, spewing HIV virions into the body and spreading the disease. If the false narrative is the virus, each individual person is like a cell; when they become infected, they reproduce the virus and spread the infection.
But where did it all begin? Who was patient zero, the first one to become infected and spread the disease? In the case of Ferguson, there were multiple patient zeros. Witness 128 was one of these original hosts as he ran around telling the community, including Brown’s family, that Michael Brown was shot with his hands up in surrender. His story goes like this:
128 is driving east on Canfield Drive when he notices something going on at the driver’s door of a Police Tahoe. He directs his attention to Brown, who is trying to escape as the officer chokes him with both hands. Next, the officer points his gun out the window and shoots Brown in the left chest. The wounded Michael Brown then takes off running. The officer, who still hasn’t opened the door of his vehicle, fires more rounds and hits Brown four times in the middle of his back. The officer gets out of his vehicle and casually approaches Brown as he pleads for his life. “Don’t kill me,” says Brown, but the plea falls on deaf ears. The officer fires two shots from within two feet, hitting Brown in the face. His body falls to the ground, face down. The officer stands over him and shoots for to five more rounds into his back.
128’s story continues as he brazenly drives up and asks the murderer cop why he just killed the defenseless man. The officer responds by telling him to shut up, mind his business and keep going (paraphrasing to avid some language here). His story will change numerous times during the investigation. 128 later admits he was ducking for cover, trying to keep a hysterical passenger calm, assumed much of what he initially reported, and may have even hallucinated during the event.
You can see how, as this investigation is just getting off the ground, the witness testimonies aren’t painting a very clear picture. You’ve got a few people telling the same story as the officer and a bunch of people giving wildly varying accounts of a young black man being executed by a white cop. But there is one person who should be able to clear things up. He was there when this all went down. He should know exactly what happened. Dorian Johnson, the media’s “key witness,” is thrust into the lime light and he has plenty to say.