Dec. 29, 2014

Is it a coverup? House of Cards level corruption in Ferguson and beyond

attribution: None Specified

By Shaun King

On August 10, 2014, St. Louis County Police Chief John Belmar held his first press conference on the murder of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson of the nearby Missouri Ferguson Police Department. His force had been called in to take over the investigation for the much smaller local department. The shooting had occurred less than 24 hours earlier, and the tensions on the ground in Ferguson were already red hot and boiling over.

Six different witnesses on the scene claimed that Mike Brown was shot at repeatedly from behind before he turned around, faced Darren Wilson, verbally surrendered, and put his hands in the air. Wilson, having already shot at Mike Brown at least six times while he fled, then fired off a barrage of four quick shots at the surrendered Brown he was looking at face to face, killing him on the spot. With his lifeless body face down on the road, Mike Brown’s blood literally flowed down Canfield Drive for more than four hours. The shooting and the aftermath that evening, which included police dogs, infuriated residents as never before, and the anger was spreading rapidly across St. Louis and into the nation.

When Chief Belmar sat down the next day to brief the press on his summary of the facts, he stated at 1:13 (and then even more emphatically at 6:01) in the video below, "The entire scene, from approximately the car door (of Officer Wilson) to the shooting, is, uh, about 35 feet."

View the video, and much more analysis, below the fold.

At that time, when the chief said the "entire scene" was just 35 feet in distance from the "car door to the shooting," every observer accepted it as a negligible fact and thought little about it, instead zeroing in on why Darren Wilson stopped Mike Brown in the first place and why a police officer would shoot a young man who was surrendering with his hands up.

It turns, out, though, that the distance Mike Brown fled was not 35 feet, as was stated in the press conference and cited in hundreds of articles since. Nor was it 45 feet, or 75 feet, or even 95 feet, but approximately 108 feet away from Darren Wilson’s SUV. Below, you will find photos from the day of the murder, maps, infographics, and more to confirm for you that the distance was nearly 300 percent farther away than originally claimed by Chief Belmar and subsequently quoted as fact in almost every narrative of the case.

While the initial reporting of this distance from the chief could have been an error, albeit an egregious one, it seems clear now, after weeks of requests to clarify this discrepancy have only produced silence, that it wasn’t an oversight, but a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts.

What reason would the chief have for so seriously understating the distance by more than 70 feet? Well, how far Mike Brown fled matters greatly, and the St. Louis County Police Department could have many reasons for purposely understating it. One doubts, though, that they expected to be caught telling this lie.

In 2001, two plainclothes undercover police officers in the St. Louis suburb of Delwood shot and killed two unarmed black men. Claiming that the men, Earl Murray and Ronald Beasley, tried to run them over in their car, a federal investigation found that the parked car they were in actually never moved. St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, when the black community expressed outrage over the murders, publicly called the dead men "bums."

On February 20, 2012, St. Louis police officer Rory Bruce was caught on camera throwing a brutal forearm to the face of a handcuffed teenager who did nothing to provoke the assault. After delivering the blow, Bruce and his partner are heard on tape insulting the young man over and over again and wrongly blaming him for the assault. If the roles had been reversed and the teenager had thrown the forearm to the face of the officer, he would've committed a felonious crime and served a harsh mandatory minimum sentence.  The officer who committed this crime, though, had the backing of Democratic State Senator Jeff Roorda. In this video, you will not only witness a brutal and senseless assault, but you will see Roorda claim the young man deserved it. Furthermore, Roorda, a member of the State Public Safety Board, successfully argued that this video could not and should not be used against the officer because, in his opinion, the cameras exist not to incriminate officers, but to film the behavior of those who've been arrested. As outrageous as that logic may sound, it worked and Officer Rory Bruce had his name cleared.

What’s particularly egregious about Jeff Roorda helping to thwart justice in this case is that Roorda was once a police officer in the St. Louis area until he was fired for repeated incidents of misconduct, including the falsification of multiple reports.

As a sign of just how twisted the justice system is in St. Louis, Roorda, who lost the appeal of his termination, was then hired as a police chief the next town over and, instead of being set back for his misconduct, began to shoot up through the political ranks as a man who would stand up for police officers by any means necessary.  Soon he became head of the St. Louis Police Union and a leader in the charity, Shield of Hope, which is behind the $500,000 in funds that have been raised for Darren Wilson.

To connect just a few more dots, you must understand that Roorda is one of the closest and most faithful political allies Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has in the entire state of Missouri. Not only has Nixon personally campaigned and fundraised for Roorda, he has openly done so in the past month since the murder of Mike Brown in spite of Roorda’s connection to the Darren Wilson fundraiser and now public knowledge of Roorda’s past termination for police misconduct.

The strange loop fully closes when you see that Roorda was the primary author and sponsor of legislation this year in Missouri, which aimed to completely conceal the identity of police officers being charged in shootings.

All of that is to say that the state of Missouri, from the top to the bottom, has absolutely no problem concealing (or even outright concocting) the truth in a case when the career of a police officer is at risk.

Were it not for a camera that was completely forgotten, Marcus Jeter, who was being charged with assaulting an officer and was also accused of "going for the gun" of the officer, would be serving a long jail sentence today. However, the police camera, which officers forgot was on, caught officers who weren’t even near Jeter yelling, "Get your hand off of my gun," which has turned out to be a near unbeatable defense for officers and is going to apparently be used by Darren Wilson. As you will see in this video, while the officer performs for the audio of one camera and forgets he can be seen by the other, Jeter is flat on the ground after being brutally assaulted himself and wasn’t doing anything like going for a gun.

Police misconduct is not imaginary. It’s terrifyingly real, and nearly indefensible and often lethal for anyone experiencing it.

Innocent and unarmed, all-state Pasadena, California, athlete Kendrec McDade, was shot and killed by police who said that when they were just a few feet away from him that they heard him shoot at them multiple times and even saw the bright flashes from the muzzle of his gun. McDade, a freshman in college, had never touched a gun in his life and was only found with his wallet and cell phone.

John Crawford III, an upstanding citizen and father of two in Ohio, was recently killed by police officers in a Beavercreek Walmart after a fellow shopper, Ronald Ritchie, falsely claimed on 911 that he saw Crawford loading his weapon and pointing at children. Neither happened. Crawford, talking on the phone with the mother of his children, was standing peacefully in an aisle when police—who, it should be noted, were not in traditional uniforms but in shorts and polo shirts—shot and killed him within 1.6 seconds of making contact with him. In their initial report, the police claimed several facts that they've since backed off of. Before anyone saw the video, the officers claimed Crawford lunged at them in a "violent manner." Ten days later, the police, having seen the video, dropped the idea that Crawford did any such thing. Before anyone saw the video, both officers claimed that they told Crawford multiple times to put down his weapon but he refused to do so. One officer now admits he didn't say anything at all and both officers now admit they didn't even identify themselves at all before shooting him.

Without even using this space to dive into the actual murder of Mike Brown, it appears that some base level misconduct has happened when the St. Louis County Police Department has repeatedly lied about the distance Mike Brown fled from the SUV of Darren Wilson.

Do you remember Kajieme Powell? He was a young man in St. Louis who was shot and killed by police just days after the Mike Brown murder. In that case, later that evening and early the next morning, the police regularly referred to a zone, a physical distance of 20 to 30 feet, in which an officer is expected and trained to use lethal force if someone has a knife or can be expected to cause physical harm to the officer. Anyone who saw the fast murder of Kajieme Powell was horrified by it, but the police insisted that the officers, filmed by the cell phone of an onlooker, were within that imaginary zone in which lethal force was expected to be used.

When the police came out the morning after Mike Brown was killed and deliberately included the distance between the SUV and the shooting, it successfully created a very particular narrative. The arc of their initial story, magnified in importance by the absence of even one official report, is that Darren Wilson shot and killed a young man who, in a short distance from the SUV, posed him grave harm.

What follows is indisputable evidence to the contrary. Mike Brown fled at least 108 feet away from Darren Wilson's SUV. If the police will lie about this fact, what else have they openly lied about? Did they present this false distance to the grand jury? Here are the facts.

From the back of Darren Wilson's SUV, Brown fled over 100 feet down Canfield Drive. The exact location where Brown died is today marked by a memorial in the middle of the street.

In his 23 years as a St. Louis prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, in spite of strong evidence in many cases, has never indicted a police officer. His office now states any police reports from Darren Wilson's murder of Mike Brown aren't delayed—in fact, they aren't going to release any reports at all. As we are now likely to just be a few weeks away from a grand jury decision in this case, citizens and journalists have been left to do what police and prosecutors seem to have very little interest in—pushing for the real facts to find justice for a young man who was killed with his hands in the air.