A new witness to the killing of Michael Brown emerged Thursday, corroborating major details offered by the earlier witness, Dorian Johnson. Both described the initial interaction between the 18-year-old and the officer as a tug-of-war in which the officer grabbed the teenager as Brown tried to free himself from the officer’s grip through a car window.In an interview with msnbc’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Tiffany Mitchell described hearing tires squeak and seeing “Michael and the officer wrestling through the [car] window.” Brown, she said, was struggling to get away while the officer continued to try to pull him closer. Concerned, Mitchell pulled out her phone, at which point she said the first shot was fired “through the window.” Mitchell then saw Brown break away from the officer’s grip and run down the street from the police vehicle.
“The officer gets out of his vehicle,” Mitchell said, “and he pursues him,” continuing to shoot at Brown. “Michael’s body jerks as if he was hit,” Mitchell explained, “and then he put his hands up,” and the officer continued to shoot at Brown until the teenager collapsed “all the way down to the ground.”
Altogether, Mitchell said, at least five or six shots were fired.
Contradicting an earlier statement by St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Mitchell said she did not see Brown or anyone else assault the officer. Brown’s body stayed out of the police vehicle the entire time, Mitchell said. She also contradicted Belmar’s statement that there was a struggle over the officer’s weapon.
An attorney for Johnson, the earlier witness, confirmed to msnbc that Johnson had been interviewed by federal authorities days after local investigators initially declined to speak with him.
Freeman Bosley, the attorney, said federal investigators questioned Johnson Wednesday for about three-and-a-half hours. “It went really well,” he said. “They were very non-combative, which is a good thing.”
Bosley said that Johnson, now a federal witness, has been relocated to a nearby safe house.After calls for calm from President Barack Obama and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, police in Ferguson did not come out in military gear on Thursday, and residents expressed their overwhelming relief.
“It’s freedom. Just to see our people out here, it’s how it should’ve been. There’s no violence here and finally our voices can be heard, ” said Anubis Dey, 32.
“Last night it was an environment of conflict and tension. Tonight people are able to exercise their constitutional rights,” said Pastor Rahson Jordan, 37, adding, “but now we have to do more than stand with these young people; we have to embrace them. Long after the marches are over there will be issues to deal with. They’ve all been traumatized.”
Earlier Thursday, Nixon sought to return peace to Ferguson by placing security and crowd control under the leadership of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. His decision came after a violent night in which law enforcement used tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades to disperse protesters.
“It means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence,” said Nixon, who earlier had appeared at a church in Ferguson after first speaking with the president on Thursday.
Capt. Ron Johnson, who took the lead for the highway patrol, said his crew will implement a different approach, “that we are in this together.”
Congressman John Lewis — a recognized leader of the Civil Rights movement — spoke out on the police violence, during an msnbc interview, saying Obama should use the authority of his office to declare martial law to “federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest.”
“People should come together, reasonable elected officials, community leaders, and address what is happening there … If we fail to act, the fires of frustration and discontent will continue to burn not only in Missouri but all across America,” Lewis said on “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
At least 16 people were arrested by late Wednesday in the suburb, including a St. Louis politician and two reporters, after police fired tear gas and pepperballs on protesters rallying over last weekend’s police killing of the unarmed black teen.
Following a meeting with Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder said the scenes occurring in Ferguson in recent days can’t continue.
“Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned,” Holder wrote in a statement. “By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them.”
A day earlier, Holder’s officer launched a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding Brown’s killing. Nixon said the new operational shift won’t affect the responsibility of the investigation.It was unclear how many people remained in police custody on Thursday. The Ferguson Police Department did not respond to msnbc’s multiple requests throughout the day and evening for comment about the overnight arrests and detainment of protesters.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson asked that demonstrators cooperate with authorities, and for “everyone to calm down.”
“I understand that what it looks like is not good. The whole situation is not good at this point,” Jackson said Thursday at a brief press conference. “We don’t want to have any violence on our part. We want this to be peaceful.”
“We have to respond to deadly force,” Jackson continued, adding that police acted Wednesday night after protesters threw rocks, bricks, bottles and a Molotov cocktail at them, and when gunshots were fired. ”What I’m satisfied with is that we haven’t hurt anybody. Nobody’s gotten injured or killed.” Jackson said that two police officers were injured Wednesday night, including one who suffered from a broken ankle after being hit by a brick.
Jackson did not reveal the identify of the officer who shot Brown after reporters questioned him about the accuracy of several names circulating online. He said that various officials have been involved in different meetings to evaluate possible tactics moving forward with the investigation.
Obama also urged “calm” and “peace” on the streets of Ferguson during a brief statement prior to Jackson’s press conference.
“Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority,” he said from Martha’s Vineyard, where he was vacationing.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles defended the force used by police, saying Thursday that officers endured a “highly stressful situation” the previous night.
“I am confident that all the law enforcement agencies that are participating are professionals. And if there are some videos that show someone losing their temper in a highly stressful situation, I am sure they’re under a great deal of stress,” Knowles told msnbc’s Alex Witt. “It does not make it OK; they are human, and I can understand their frustrations as well.”
“I can’t second-guess these officers. They’re the professionals,” he added. “Right now we’re just going to try our best to maintain order.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, blamed government for the unrest in Missouri. “Anyone who thinks that race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. And the root of the problem is big government,” he wrote in an op-ed for Time.
Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill spoke with constituents on Thursday in Ferguson, warning against the adverse effects of police arriving at a scene in riot gear.
“We need to de-militarize this situation. This kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution,” she said in a statement. “I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right. Today is going to be a new start, we can and need to do better,” she said.
But, she said, she will not second-guess the information released by law enforcement on the state and local levels.
“I don’t think there’s any questions that this is a wound that is not going to heal overnight. This is going to take patience and this is going to take time,” she said at a press conference.
The harsh police tactics have been on clear display in Ferguson. Wesley Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post who was detained by officers, told msnbc’s Jose Diaz-Balart that he saw a black man in a police car Wednesday screaming out for medical care, but that officers laughed off the man’s request.
“This story is not about us journalists, but the journalists here in many ways are the eyes and the ears for the nation who need to see what’s going on, need to hear what’s going on,” Lowery said.
Four days after Brown’s death, protesters continued to clash with officers. By 8 p.m. Wednesday, a massive police force, on foot and in armored vehicles, descended on the area demanding the crowd’s dispersal. Police arrested then later released Alderman Antonio French, a St. Louis politician. His wife, Jasenka Benac, wrote on Twitter that French “was ordered out of his car and arrested because he ‘didn’t listen.’”
Lowery, of The Post, and Ryan Reilly, of The Huffington Post, were arrested while covering the events. They were later released, but without further explanation. According to their reports, they were taken into custody when they didn’t pack their bags quickly enough after police ordered them to leave a McDonald’s restaurant. Wesley said the police slammed him into a soda machine and then handcuffed him when he asked to stop to adjust a strap on his bag that had slipped off his shoulder. Both journalists have accused officers of using unnecessary force.
Officers present at the news conference Thursday said the reporters were released at the scene the previous night.
Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who said she was tear-gassed Monday night while peacefully protesting over Brown’s death, questioned Jackson during a press conference Wednesday, asking: “Will I get tear-gassed again?” During the peaceful demonstration earlier this week, Chappelle-Nadal led a group to sit in the street, initially refusing officers’ demands to move.
“All we want to do is to peacefully display our right to free speech, that’s all. We were not violent, whatsoever,” she told msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell on Thursday. Chappelle-Nadal represents Ferguson, and Brown was one of her constituents.
The smoke-filled scene Wednesday night erupted just hours after police asked residents to gather and pray peacefully only during daylight hours. Nixon announced late Wednesday that he had canceled his appearance at the state fair for the following day.
During her interview Thursday on msnbc, Chappelle-Nadal called Nixon a “coward” for not immediately visiting the scene of the shooting and protests.
Authorities earlier this week declined to release the name of the officer who shot Brown amid social media threats and other public safety concerns. In an exclusive interview Wednesday, Jackson told msnbc he wanted to uncover the truth about the killing and be “part of the solution.” Four days after the shooting, police have yet to reveal many details, including the number of shots the officer fired at Brown. Jackson met with the national president of the NAACP and the local chapter of the NAACP Thursday morning.
As the scene unfolded in Ferguson, Obama attended a party while on vacation. Holder and White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett briefed the president on the situation in Ferguson. White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz tweeted that at the event on Wednesday night, “a good time was had by all.”
Obama previously called the teen’s death “heartbreaking” and offered condolences to the Brown family.
Authorities released Brown’s body to the Austin A. Layne Mortuary in St. Louis. The Browns haven’t finalized funeral arrangements for the teenager. Officials haven’t revealed details from the autopsy reports.
Michele Richinick contributed reporting.