Prosecutor Wesley Bell – recently elected on a reform platform – said his office conducted an independent review of the case in five months and determined there was insufficient evidence to bring charges.
“This is one of the hardest things I had to do as an elected officer,” Bell, the county’s first Black prosecutor, said at a news conference Thursday. “Michael Brown’s death has exposed the nation to deep and lingering pain from the St. Luke’s community and the entire country.”;
Bell said his office reviewed witness statements, forensic reports and other evidence to determine if they could prove Wilson committed murder or manslaughter.
“The only question is whether we can show beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has occurred,” Bell said. “The answer to that question is no.”
He added that the investigation “does not exonerate Darren Wilson,”
Brown was 18, a recent high school graduate, when Wilson confronted him and a friend on a street in Ferguson. Wilson later testified that he was answering a theft call from a nearby store. A fight broke out that led to a chase down the road and ended when Wilson shot Brown at least six times, saying he did so in self-defense. Authorities left Brown’s body on the road for hours after the shooting.
Bell’s predecessor, Robert McCulloch, did not charge Wilson and instead referred the case to a grand jury, which refused to order Wilson, who resigned from the department days later.
The Justice Department also refused to put the press charges, but investigators released a strong report on Ferguson’s police department and court system, blaming law enforcement for “an unconstitutional police trend” and actions that “reflect and magnify existing racial prejudice.”
After Bell took office in 2019, Brown’s family and civil rights attorneys forced him to re-investigate, and the prosecutor reopened the case earlier this year. Bell’s announcement angered some longtime Ferguson activists, who criticized him for not running more than McCulloch.
“I used to believe that the criminal justice system was never built to protect black people in order to be disappointed,” tweeted Brittany Packnett Cunningham, a Ferguson activist and member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on Human Rights Policy. 21st Century. “I was finally seated rather than running, and it struck me that we were no longer shocked. #M MikeBrown’s family deserves much more.”
Ashley Yates, who was an organizer in Ferguson when Brown was killed, responded to Bell’s news conference announcing the decision in a tweet: “Not a single word about the elimination of police homicides. Not a single effort to limit their ability to kill. ”
As Bell stepped off the podium, a man wearing a shirt read, “Wesley Bell doesn’t care about Black people,” shouted for residents to vote for the prosecutor out of office, as they did with McCulloch.
“He’s gone,” he said, as police escorted him out of the information room. “One term!”