FERGUSON, Mo.—The grand jury judge overseeing the Michael Brown case has not agreed to release evidence to the public if veteran police officer Darren Wilson is not indicted, according to a press release published Sunday by a court administrator.
In response to a local report, Paul Fox, director of the St. Louis County Circuit Court Judicial Administration, said the presiding grand jury judge “has entered no such order and has made no such agreement” to release the evidence if Darren Wilson is not indicted.
“If the grand jury returns a no true bill, the judge anticipates the court will receive requests for grand jury records. Some of those requests will require the court to analyze the need for maintaining secrecy of the records with the need for public disclosure of the records,” Fox wrote in a document released Sunday.
The community anticipated a grand jury vote as early as Saturday, but the members now plan to meet next on Monday.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch previously said the evidence seen by the grand jury over the past few months would be presented to the public if Wilson is not indicted, which many people expect will be the outcome.
Following the Aug. 9 shooting death of the unarmed 18-year-old, residents and community leaders in Ferguson called for McCulloch to recuse himself from the investigation. Many St. Louis County’s black community distrust McCulloch, who is white, for his extensive family ties to the police force and his failure to bring charges in several high-profile cases in which white police have shot black citizens.
At the Greater St. Mark’s Family Church, just a few blocks from where Brown was killed, Rev. Tommie Pierson Sr. on Sunday urged congregants to keep marching peacefully for justice, whatever the grand jury decides. The church is one of several in the area that has agreed to operate as a safe haven during the protests, providing shelter and medical assistance to anyone who needs it.
“We are not going to loot, we are not going to break windows, we are not going to do any of that stuff,” said Pierson, who is also a Democratic state representative, as a steady rain came down outside. “But we are going to walk our faith.”
“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Pierson added. “We don’t know who is going to be the next sacrificial lamb. It could be any of us.”
And Pierson, like many local black leaders in recent months, issued a call for civic engagement. His sermon described a group of lepers who were “isolated and segregated from the larger society,” and dependent on charity.
“I can just imagine that up until this point, they didn’t attend any civic meetings, they didn’t know who the mayor was, they didn’t know who the city council was, they didn’t know the governor,” Pierson said, to loud approval from the congregation. “They were just sitting there waiting for someone to come give them something. How often do we just sit and wait for someone to come give us something, when the power that we need is already in our hands?”
Many congregants, though hoping for an indictment, were just as anxious to ensure that protests stay peaceful.
“I’m putting it in the hands of God,” Michelle Jones said about the grand jury decision. “If you want to protest that’s fine. But don’t be breaking windows and looting in your own city because that’s somebody else’s livelihood.”
Rev. F. Willis Johnson of the Wellspring Church, which is just down the street from the Ferguson Police Department, said the issues underlying the unrest in the city won’t be wrapped up soon.
“This decision from the grand jury in and of itself does not bring resolution to what has been a longstanding historical and cultural problem, to not only this community or this state, but most of this country,” Johnson said.
Anthony Gray, a Brown family attorney, expressed his concern for the process of a possible trial in Ferguson during an interview Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
“I’m not concerned that they’re not going to indict. I am concerned about the process itself,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “There’s just a level of distrust over the whole process and those that are involved in the process that I think that that’s adding a level of anxiety to this whole situation that doesn’t have to be necessary had they done things a little bit differently in the beginning.”
Gray added that he thinks a trial “may be therapeutic” for the community, but the court won’t reach a decision that fully satisfies every resident’s full expectations.
President Barack Obama said the United States allows residents to express their views and assemble peacefully to protest actions they view as unjust.
But, he added, “using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are,” he said in an interview with ABC News on Sunday.
Police and witnesses have said Wilson and Brown were caught in a struggle through the window of the officer’s SUV when, according to police, Wilson says Brown attempted to reach for the officer’s gun. Forensic evidence, leaked to The New York Times through 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 from the SUV 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.
After the shooting death, Ferguson became the scene of escalating violence and anger on the part of both demonstrators and a heavily armored police presence. Local law enforcement officials have prepared riot gear and weaponry ahead of the grand jury’s decision. The outcome, which could come any day, rests with a panel of 12 citizens.
Last Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon issued a state of emergency in Missouri, activating the state National Guard to assist in supporting local authorities if unrest erupts upon the decision.
“What I have confidence in is that if we do a better job of training our law enforcement to be sensitive to the concerns of minority communities, then over time trust can be built in part because minority communities typically are subject to more crime,” Obama said on Sunday.