A Missouri grand jury now has through the end of the year to decide whether to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.
St. Louis County Judge Carolyn Whittington extended the panel’s term until Jan. 7, tacking on an additional 60 days to the maximum term length that would have wrapped up in November, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
While the grand jury may not use the full term before making a decision, the extension buys more time for the panel to hear evidence in a case that sparked weeks of protests and as anger continues to swell in calls to charge Wilson with a crime.
The 12-person panel – made up of nine white and three black jurors – will focus exclusively on the Brown case as it meets in secret to determine whether Wilson committed a crime when he shot Brown at least six times in broad daylight on Aug. 9.
Meanwhile, Wilson will remain on administrative leave while St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch presents evidence in the case.
Police accounts and eye-witness testimony present a muddied picture of the altercation that led Wilson to open fire against Brown. According to the police, Brown attempted to grab the officer’s gun. Several eyewitnesses say they saw the 18-year-old surrender before Wilson fired nearly a dozen shots. An autopsy report ordered by Brown’s family found that the bullets hit the teen at least six times, with the final fatal shots striking him in the head.In the aftermath of the shooting and the enraged protests that ensued, officials of the city of Ferguson, a mostly African-American suburb of St. Louis, have taken some steps to ease tensions between residents and local police. A proposal would reform how the city collects fees and fines from arrests. The municipal court created a separate docket for defendants who are hard up and unable to pay fines on time. Officers on the majority white police force have also begun to wear body cameras to document interactions with residents.
The Department of Justice already has two civil rights investigations delving into Ferguson – one focusing on Brown’s case and another probing the entire department’s tactics in Ferguson. The White House responded to a “We the People” petition calling for a law requiring all state, county and local police to wear body cameras. The petition has more than 154,000 signatures.
“As Ferguson continues to heal as a community, this administration will continue to work to ensure that our justice system, across the country, is truly just,” wrote Roy Austin Jr., deputy assistant to the president, adding that the Justice Department supported the use of police-worn body cameras. “We’ll continue to work to support the use of video technology, review and evaluate law enforcement agencies that use it, and continue to engage in discussions about how this technology impacts policing, communities, and public safety.”