After our investigation, the Department of Justice decided to end its contracts with private prisons. Read our story, and what it took to report it.
Jaeah is a former reporter at Mother Jones. Her writings have appeared in The Atlantic, the Guardian, Wired, Christian Science Monitor,Global Post,Huffington Post,Talking Points Memo, and Grist. She tweets at @jaeahjlee.
Suspects in 10 cases—most of them black men—wielded an iPod, a cellphone, and a set of keys.
Jaeah LeeDec. 11, 2014 7:15 AM
A student at a "die-in" protest at the University of Michigan on WednesdayAnn Arbor News, Patrick Record/AP
Last week, 34-year-old father of four Rumain Brisbon was shot and killed by a police officer at an apartment complex in north Phoenix. The officer, 30-year-old Mark Rine, approached Brisbon's SUV while investigating a suspected drug deal. According to police officials, after Brisbon stepped out of his car and Rine ordered him to show his hands, Brisbon reached for his waistband. Then Rine drew his gun, and Brisbon fled. After a short chase the two engaged in a struggle, with Rine firing two shots into Brisbon's torso. Rine later said that he thought he'd felt a gun in Brisbon's pocket, but it turned out to be a vial of oxycodone, a pain reliever. Rine has since been placed on desk duty pending an internal investigation.
Brisbon's death is just the latest example of police killing suspects—often black men—over guns that aren't actually there. And scientific research has shown that unconscious racial bias can be a factor in these situations. As Chris Mooney wrote recently, in an experiment testing whether an object such as a wallet or a soda can be mistaken for a gun, "police are considerably slower to press the 'don't shoot' button for an unarmed black man than they are for an unarmed white man—and faster to shoot an armed black man than an armed white man."
Below are 10 other cases since 2006 in which an officershot a suspect after mistaking some other object for a gun. Two of the victims in this list (which is hardly comprehensive) were white, one was Latino, and seven were black. As is common with police shootings, few of the officers faced charges, and none of them were convicted of a crime.
Date: February 25, 2014 Location: Clover, South Carolina Race of victim: White What happened: Terrance Knox, a county deputy sheriff, stopped Bobby Canipe, a 70-year-old white man, for driving with an expired license tag on a highway north of Clover. Officials said that Canipe stepped out of his car and began walking toward Knox while holding a cane, which Knox said he thought was a gun. Knox fired six shots, one of which hit Canipe in the chest, injuring him. Prosecutors declined to charge Knox in August 2014, saying that the shooting was "without question accidental."
Date: February 14, 2014 Location: Euharlee, Georgia Race of victim: White What happened: Officer Beth Gatny and another officer were serving a search warrant for the father of Christopher Roupe for a probation violation. When the officers knocked on the door of the family's home, Gatny said she thought she heard "the action of a firearm" before the door opened, and drew her weapon. When Roupe, 17, opened the door, Gatny opened fire, killing him, later saying that she thought she'd seen him holding a pistol. Roupe's family members said he was holding a Nintendo Wii game controller. A Bartow County grand jury declined to indict Gatny in July.
Date: May 8, 2011 Location: North Little Rock, Arkansas Race of victim: Black Whathappened: North Little Rock police officer Vincent Thornton and two other officers chased Henry Lee Jones Jr.,in the Silver City Courts housing projects after responding to a domestic-violence complaint. "As he charged toward me and put his shoulder down…I saw a light-colored object I believed to be a gun," in Jones' hand, Thornton, then a 28-year veteran of the force, later testified. The object was a cellphone; Thornton shot Jones, a black 20-year-old, in the upper back, lodging a bullet between Jones' lungs, severing his spinal column, and leaving him paralyzed. Jones died two years later. In May 2014, a federal court jury cleared Thornton of charges, deeming his use of force reasonable.
Date: July 5, 2010 Location: Miami Race of victim: Black What happened: Rookie Miami police officer Joseph Marin and his partner pulled over DeCarlos Moore, whom they suspected of driving a stolen vehicle. Moore stepped out of his car, and the officers ordered Moore to put his hands on his vehicle, according to a report by a civilian investigative panel. When Moore reached for a shiny object inside his car, Marin shot Moore in the head, killing him. Police investigators discovered that the shiny object was rock cocaine wrapped in tin foil (and that the car was not stolen). The State Attorney's office declined to prosecute Marin in May 2011, and in 2013, the independent panel also exonerated Marin. Moore was one of seven black men killed by Miami police in an eight-month period, eventually prompting a civil rights investigation by the US Department of Justice.
Date: March 12, 2010 Location: Nashville, Tennessee Race of victim: Black What happened: Around 11 a.m., Metro Police Canine Officer Joe Shelton was responding to call about a burglary and ended up chasing40-year-old suspect Reginald Dewayne Wallace. As he caught up to Wallaceand grabbed him, the two engaged in a struggle. When Wallace reached into his pocket and pulled out a shiny object, Shelton fired three times, thinking it was a weapon. The object turned out to be a silver iPod he allegedly stole from the home. Wallace died of his wounds two hours later at a hospital. Wallace's family members sued the government of Nashville and the officer for damages and deprivation of civil rights. The Nashville Metro Police told Mother Jones that Shelton is still serving in the department and did not face disciplinary action for Wallace's death.
Date: July 13, 2009 Location: Los Angeles Race of victim: Black What happened: Two LA County deputy sheriffs pulled up to the car of Woodrow Player III around 9 p.m., believing he matched the description of a man who had reportedly threatened people with a gun. Player fled, and in the foot chase that ensued pointed a "dark object" at the deputies, which they thought was a gun, according to the sheriff's office. The deputies shot and killed Player, who was 22. Investigators later found a cellphone next to Player's body. Player's family filed a wrongful death suit against the department; in September 2011 a jury exonerated the deputies. The LA County Sheriff's department told Mother Jones that an internal investigation found the deputies did not violate any department policy, and that both still serve on duty there.
Date: March 1, 2008 Location: Los Angeles Race of victim: Black What happened: At about 7 p.m., several officers from the city's South Traffic Division saw a gray truck that was speeding in the Hyde Park area crash into a palm tree. According to the police account, when Officer Jose Campos approached the truck on foot, Maurice LeRoy Cox, 38, who was driving the truck, reached into the glove compartment and threatened to kill the officers if they didn't move away. Cox stepped out of his truck and pointed what looked like a gun at the officers before running away, police said. Other officers shot at Cox as the chase led to a bank parking lot. Cox died shortly thereafter of his wounds. Police later recovered a cigarette lighter power adapter on the scene. Cox's wife filed a $10 million claim against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD officers for civil rights violations, battery, and negligence. In November 2010, a LA Superior Court jury ruled in favor of Campos.
Date: February 27, 2008 Location: Los Angeles Race of victim: Latino What happened: Around 7 p.m., LAPD motorcycle officers in the Van Nuys neighborhood pulled over Julio Eddy Perez in a 1997 burgundy Saturn for a traffic violation. After the officers approached the car and had a brief conversation with Perez, Perez drove off and a chase ensued. Byron San Jose, a 25-year-old Latino who was riding in the backseat, jumped out of the car as it slowed down. San Jose walked toward the officers holding a "black metal object," and one officer hit San Jose with the front of his motorcycle. The other officer, Derek Mousseau, fired several shots, killing San Jose. The aspiring rapper had been carrying a two-foot-long microphone stand. San Jose's family later sued the LAPD and Mousseau for use of excessive force, asking for $750,000 damage compensation. The family lost the suit in November 2010.
Date: November 30, 2006 Location: San Antonio Race of victim: Black What happened: Joseph Fennell and Coby Taylor were walking to work when a San Antonio police officer drove onto the sidewalk, blocking their path. Officer Robert Rosales, who was investigating a string of robberies, ordered them to put their hands in the air and move toward a fence. Police officials later said Rosales stopped Fennell, 24, and Taylor, 20, because they both matched the description of a robbery suspect: a short black man in his 20s. Fennell pulled his hands out of his coat pocket; he was holding a set of keys, which prompted Rosales, who mistook the keys for a gun, to shoot. The bullet grazed Fennell's forehead. In 2007, a grand jury declined to indict Rosales, and the City Council approved an $80,000 settlement for Fennell. An internal probe into the incident did not result in disciplinary action, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
Date: June 6, 2006 Location: San Francisco Race of victim: Black What happened: Three San Francisco police officers, John Keesor, Michelle Alvis, and Paul Morgado entered a town house near Lake Merced after responding to a call about suspected trespassing. After apprehending one man and finding a knife near him, they found another man, Asa B. Sullivan, hiding in a dark attic. Police said that Sullivan had stretched out his arms holding a "cylindrical object" when the officers confronted him and refused to cooperate, prompting the three officers to shoot and kill Sullivan. The object was an eyeglasses case. Sullivan's family sued the SFPD for entering the building without a warrant and using excessive force. Eight years later, a federal court declined to charge the officers, ruling that they had acted reasonably and did not violate Sullivan's rights. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in May 2009 that Alvin was placed on desk duty after the shooting incident. SFPD told Mother Jones that the officers were still serving on duty, but declined to disclose whether they'd faced disciplinary action related to the case, saying it was confidential.
1. Herald Online, March 12, 2014 and August 14, 2014; dash cam footage.
2. WSB-TV Atlanta, July 16, 2014
3. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, April 30, 2014, May 1, 2014, and May 3, 2014.
4. The Miami Herald, May 8, 2011, November 16, 2011, February 20, 2013, and April 16, 2014.
5. Nashville City Paper, June 15, 2010; The Tennessean, March 13, 2010.
6. Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2009 and September 29, 2011
7. Los Angeles Times Homicide Report; Associated Press, July 9, 2008; Canyon News, December 2, 2010.
8. Los Angeles Police Department; The Daily News of Los Angeles, April 9, 2008; Los Angeles Times Homicide Report; The Daily News of Los Angeles, November 9, 2010.
9. San Antonio Express-News, December 17, 2006, July 25, 2007, and August 31, 2007.
10. San Francisco Chronicle, June 8, 2006, May 18, 2009, and October 9, 2014.
The DOD's medical examiner found eight gunshot wounds on Brown.
AJ Vicens and Jaeah LeeDec. 8, 2014 8:36 PM
After Michael Brown was shot and killed by Officer Darren Wilson on August 9, his body was inspected three separate times: Once by the St. Louis County Office of the Medical Examiner; once, at the request of Brown's family, by outside expert Dr. Michael Baden; and one more time by the Department of Defense's Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, at the request of the US Department of Justice. The DOD's report, released by the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office on December 8, is below:
Where the accounts of Darren Wilson and witnesses don't add up.
Jaeah Lee and AJ VicensNov. 26, 2014 11:49 PM
Since the St. Louis County prosecutor's office released a trove of documents and evidence reviewed by the grand jury that decided to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, there have been numerous reports pointing out the discrepancies between Wilson's and various witness accounts of what happened on the day that Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. While the grand jury has put an end to the state's case against Wilson, questions about witness accounts could still sway the outcome of the Justice Department's ongoing investigation. The Washington Post, Vox, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, PBS, and the Wall Street Journal have reported on these different accounts in further detail, especially the differences between the testimonies of Wilson and Dorian Johnson, a friend who was with Brown when Wilson approached them. We matched those accounts up with McCulloch's statement during his announcement of the grand jury decision. Here are five key discrepancies:
1. What happened during Wilson's initial encounter with Brown and Dorian Johnson?
Prosecutor Robert McCulloch: Wilson saw Brown and Johnson in the street, slowed down and told them to get on the sidewalk, and words were exchanged.
Darren Wilson: Wilson saw Brown and Dorian Johnson walking in the middle of the road. He told Johnson and Brown to get on the sidewalk. He noticed Brown was holding Cigarillos and remembered the report about the theft.
Dorian Johnson: Brown stole the Cigarillos from the Ferguson Market and then the two of them were walking toward their apartments as Wilson passed. Wilson told them to "Get the fuck on the sidewalk."
2. How did the situation escalate?
McCulloch: Wilson reverses his car at an angle, blocking traffic and Brown and Johnson's path. Wilson and Brown get into an altercation, with Wilson still in the car and Brown standing at the driver's window.
Wilson: After Wilson told Brown and Johnson to get on the sidewalk, he says he heard Brown respond "fuck what you have to say." He backed the car up to contain them, and asks Brown to come over to the car. He starts to get out of the car and Brown slams the door shut and says "what the fuck are you going to do about it."
Johnson: Johnson says neither he nor Brown said a word and Wilson reversed his car unexpectedly, then opened his door and hit both him and Brown, and the door bounced back closed. Wilson then grabbed Brown by the shirt around his neck.
3. What exactly happened during Wilson and Brown's "tussle"?
McCulloch: McCulloch says witness statements were inconsistent, with some saying Brown was never in the car at all, and others saying Brown was punching Wilson, some saying they were wrestling, and another saying that it was a tug-of-war. Two shots are fired during the altercation.
Wilson: After getting the door slammed on him, Wilson told Brown to "get the fuck back," and tried to use the door to push him. Brown shut it again, and Brown then came "in my vehicle." Brown punched Wilson. Wilson had one hand on his gun and tried to fire twice. Brown reached for Wilson's gun. The gun goes off twice, and one bullet hits the door.
Johnson: Johnson says that Wilson reached his hand out of his car window and grabbed Brown's shirt by his neck. A "tug of war" ensued with Brown trying to escape Wilson's grip, but Brown's hands never entered the car. After hearing the first gun shot, Johnson noticed blood on Brown, then turned and ran away. Brown followed behind him.
4. Did Wilson shoot at Brown and Johnson as they ran away?
McCulloch: McCulloch again says witness statements were inconsistent, with claims ranging from Wilson firing from the car, firing at Brown's back as he was running, and others saying Wilson didn't fire until Brown turned around and came back toward Wilson.
Wilson: Brown begins to run from Wilson after two shots were fired from the car. Brown runs but then turns around, and won't comply with demands to get on the ground. Wilson says he didn't open fire while Brown and Johnson ran away.
Johnson: Johnson hid behind a car, and watched as Brown ran past him and Wilson followed. Wilson opens fire while Brown is still running, at which point Brown stops and turns around. (Witness Piaget Crenshaw has told CNN Wilson shot as Brown ran away, adding that one bullet struck the building she was standing in. Another witness told investigators Wilson shot at Brown as he ran away.)
5.What was Brown doing when Wilson shot him?
McCulloch: McCulloch says witness accounts differ on whether Brown's hands were up when he was facing Brown after turning around. Some say Brown didn't move at all before Wilson shot him, others say he was in "full charge." McCulloch stressed that several witnesses' stories changed over the course of multiple interviews with authorities.
Wilson: Brown initially runs away but then turns around, and won't comply with Wilson's demands to get on the ground. Brown appears to charge toward Wilson. Brown put his hand at his waistband. Wilson opens fire.
Johnson: When Brown turned around to face Wilson, Brown's hands were up, one higher than the other. His hands were nowhere near his waist. Brown appeared to try and tell Wilson that he didn't have a gun, starting to take a step forward. Before Brown could complete his sentence, Wilson shot him several more times. (Crenshaw told CNN that after Brown turned around, he barely moved toward Wilson and that his hands were up. "They were just slowly going up, it probably didn't even have a chance to get all the way up there before he was struck.")
PBS Newshour analyzed more than 500 pages of witness testimony and compared them to Wilson's statements. Their graphic shows 16 witnesses testified that Brown put his hands up when fired upon:
Read the full testimony and other evidence just released by the St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office
Jaeah Lee and AJ VicensNov. 25, 2014 1:16 AM
Here is Darren Wilson's testimony before the St. Louis County grand jury (St. Louis Public Radio has uploaded documents, here), starting on page 195. (His account of his encounter with Michael Brown begins on page 206.) Follow our coverage on what's happening in Ferguson, and how the grand jury decision fits a longstanding pattern in the St. Louis area.