FERGUSON, Missouri — A St. Louis County grand jury has reached a decision in the shooting death of Michael Brown, which will be announced Monday at 9 p.m. ET, according to a spokesman for the county prosecutor’s office. Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Brown family, said the family has been notified of a decision.
On Monday night, crowds formed around police barriers in Ferguson and faced off with officers in anticipation of the jury’s impending decision on whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown on Aug. 9. The death of the unarmed teenager sparked weeks of protest in the largely black St. Louis suburb.
At a press conference on on Monday evening, Nixon called on people on all sides to “show tolerance, mutual respect and restraint” regardless of the grand jury’s decision. He made a similar plea in a conference call with clergy leaders earlier in the day.
“A great deal of young people deeply feel that they’re not going to live very long,” Nixon said on the call. “Let’s not make any mistakes, it’s the young people that are pushing what’s going on here.”
He added that, “We’re clearly striving for peace on all sides, striving to deepen respect on all sides, striving to make sure everything stays as calm as possible.”
State and local authorities have been preparing for weeks in case of potential unrest once the grand jury’s decision is announced. Nixon issued a state of emergency last Monday in Missouri, calling up the state National Guard to assist local law enforcement. The governor said in a press conference last week that the guard would be brought in as needed to help maintain safety if protests break out as a result of the jury decision.
Brown, 18, was shot and killed by Wilson in broad daylight following an altercation that ended with the officer shooting the unarmed teenager at least six times, autopsies revealed. Police say Wilson, who is white, shot the black teen in self-defense after Brown reached for the officer’s gun through the window of the police car. Brown’s body was left in the hot street for hours before it was removed from the scene.
Forensic evidence, published in The New York Times and attributed to unnamed sources, suggested the first shots were fired from inside Wilson’s vehicle. A half-dozen eyewitnesses have said publicly that they saw Brown flee to later turn and put his hands up in surrender as Wilson fired the final fatal shots. But a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity told NBC News’ Pete Williams that Wilson said the teen turned and charged back toward him after running from the vehicle, at which point Wilson feared for his life.
“What happened to Michael Brown has deeply divided us. Whatever the announcement this evening, some people are going to be angry and frustrated,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay. “My message to the protesters: We will protect your right to peacefully assemble and speak your mind.”
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have urged calm ahead of the grand jury decision. But state and local officials, as well as residents and business, are bracing for unrest.
“Citizens should be able to express themselves peacefully without being threatened by people expressing violence and disorder,” Nixon said in press conference last week announcing his activation of the the national guard. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also dispatched a team of agents to Ferguson to help protect federal employees and buildings, or to mitigate actions that could be considered federal crimes.
Ferguson was the scene of escalating violence and anger in the wake of Brown’s death, as demonstrators clashed with heavily-armored police who used tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue largely peaceful protests. Local law enforcement officials have also prepared riot gear and weaponry ahead of the grand jury’s decision.
Photo essay: How the crisis in Ferguson unfolded, in photographs
During the grand jury process, the panel of 12 jurors is instructed to indict if there is probable cause for charges – a low standard that requires only a reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed. In the case of Wilson, the grand jury will be given a number of potential charges ranging from first degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, according to Ed Magee, the St. Louis County prosecutor’s spokesman.
If the grand jury chooses to indict Officer Wilson on any charge – a decision that requires agreement by at least nine jurors – the case proceeds to a criminal trial to determine whether he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Justice Department is conducting a separate civil rights investigation into the case.
Police, protesters and local businesses began making final preparations Monday as the grand jury decision loomed. St. Louis County police issued a call for donations to officers who will be “working around-the-clock-shifts,” including gift cards for hot meals, Gatorade and cough drops. Protesters were also preparing for a long night as the temperature in Ferguson drops into the low 30s, with a few activists erecting a “warming center” a block from the Ferguson Police Department. Quick Trip, a convenience store chain, closed four of its locations near Ferguson as a “precautionary measure to be safe,” a store official said.
Public schools in Clayton, Missouri, the neighborhood where the grand jury decision will be announced, canceled after school activities, except for childcare, on Monday. Clayton officials have also said they are taking additional steps to secure buildings in the city, including temporary traffic restrictions in the area. Some schools in the Ferguson area are also closed this week in anticipation of potential violence between police and protesters. Local churches have said they will open and serve as safe spaces for those seeking refuge in the event of unrest.
Local law enforcement officials and Ferguson protest groups have agreed on some so-called “rules of engagement” ahead of the grand jury decision. Those include prioritizing the “preservation of human life” and treating protesters as citizens instead of “enemy combatants.” Other requests made by the protesters, such as banning the use of crowd-control equipment like tear gas and rubber bullets, were denied by police.