The Justice Department has cleared Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson of civil rights violations in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.
The federal government announced its decision not to prosecute Wilson in a report released Wednesday, explaining that the officer’s actions on Aug. 9 on a Ferguson, Missouri, street didn’t violate federal civil rights laws and “do not constitute a prosecutable violation.”
“Federal statutes require the government to prove that Officer Wilson used unreasonable force when he shot Michael Brown and that he did so willfully,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
But after reviewing the evidence — including forensics, medical and autopsy reports, and grand jury transcripts — prosecutors couldn’t disprove Wilson’s testimony that he feared for his life when he fatally shot 18-year-old Brown. Witnesses have said Brown had his hands up at the time of the encounter — a crucial detail that federal prosecutors also couldn’t prove.
Justice Department officials said they informed the Brown family earlier Wednesday about its findings.
“Today we received disappointing news from the Department of Justice that the killer of our son wouldn’t be held accountable for his actions,” parents Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden said in a statement. But, they added, they are encouraged that the department is holding the Ferguson police force accountable for a pattern of racial profiling.
“It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country,” Brown’s parents said. “If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain.”
The teenager’s death in the St. Louis suburb stirred weeks of demonstrations there and nationwide, and led to renewed discussions about police brutality and profiling in minority communities. A fresh wave of protests erupted when a grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November.
But the Justice Department announced Tuesday after its six-month investigation into the Brown shooting that police in Ferguson have consistently violated citizens’ civil rights. Specifically, while blacks make up 67 percent of the city’s population, they made up 93 percent of arrests from 2012 to 2014. Black drivers were also more than twice as likely to be stopped for a traffic search than whites.
“Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action,” outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. He is expected to address the findings of the latest report at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday.
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— Erik Ortiz