Attorney General Eric Holder spoke with federal, state and elected officials Wednesday as the St. Louis region braces for a grand jury panel decision on whether to indict the police officer who shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown.
Holder said in a conference call that he was encouraged by reports of law enforcement officials collaborating with community leaders ahead of the looming decision in Brown's case, Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
"The attorney general stressed that going forward, it will be more important than ever that the law enforcement response to the demonstrations always seek to deescalate tensions and respect the rights of protestors," Fallon continued. "At the same time, the attorney general said it must be clearly communicated that any acts of violence by the demonstrators, or other attempts to provoke law enforcement, are unacceptable."
Dr. Michael Baden, who was hired by Brown's family in August to conduct a private autopsy of the slain teen, appeared before the grand jury Thursday, the family's attorney Anthony Gray confirmed to NBC News.
Baden was on an early flight from New York to St. Louis on Wednesday morning, poring over documents in preparation for his testimony before the grand jury on Thursday. Baden told msnbc that he was reluctant to speak with media until after a decision by the grand jury is announced, as not to add to the swirl of rumor and speculation surrounding the case and what the jury’s decision will be and when.
He said that he was not contacted by the grand jury until about two weeks ago and that he is meeting with county prosecutors on Wednesday ahead of his scheduled testimony. But he also offered some insight into the grand jury process. As a medical examiner for the city of New York in the 1960s and the city’s chief medical examiner in the late 1970s, Baden said he’s gone before grand juries many times.
Baden has played a role in a number of high-profile cases. He chaired the forensic pathology panel convened by Congress to reinvestigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, offered expert testimony in the drug overdose death of actor John Belushi and examined O.J. Simpson before Simpson led police on his now-infamous chase in his white Ford Bronco, among other notable cases.
Brown's parents, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr., are in Geneva, Switzerland, to build international support for their cause to reform policing in the United States by appealing before the United Nations Committee Against Torture. "My son’s death has awoken Ferguson and surrounding St. Louis to the long degrading treatment by police officers to the black community," Brown's father told reporters from Geneva Wednesday. "What the officer did to my son, Mike Brown, should be considered torture."
The family is joined by more than 70 advocates and organizations in raising concerns to the committee as it reviews the U.S. federal government’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty outlined to prevent torture or cruel punishment throughout the world.
Daryl Parks, attorney for the Brown family, said during the conference that they hoped their presence in Geneva would influence the international body in pressing for changes from the United States with accountability from police both on the local and federal level.
"It's a simple message: That all lives matter, and black lives matter too," Parks said, building on what Michael Brown Sr. told the committee Tuesday. "Michael Brown Jr. is a victim of human injustice."
The Brown family is calling on authorities to arrest and charge officer Darren Wilson in their son's death. Speaking to reporters Wednesday, McSpadden said the family is not considering the possibility that Wilson may not be charged.
"I don’t even think about the negative, I think the positive will be indictment," she said.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch's office made clear that officials will not be announcing a final decision on whether to seek criminal charges against Wilson before mid-November.
The autopsy report presented in late August by Baden, a renowned pathologist and former New York City medical examiner, touches on several key questions as to what happened when Brown was killed on Aug. 9, that are contradicted between eye-witness and police accounts.
Both sides say Brown and Wilson engaged in a tussle through the window of the officer’s SUV. According to police, Wilson says the teen attempted to grab the officer’s gun during the struggle in the car. Analysis of the official autopsy report, leaked to the media last month, indicated that Brown was first shot in the hand at a close range.
Baden’s report seems to contradict that account in finding that none of Brown’s wounds were sustained at a close range. Such a discrepancy could alter the perception of the events leading up to Brown’s death. A half-dozen eye-witnesses have said publicly that they saw Brown flee from Wilson’s vehicle, when the teen eventually turned and raised his arms in surrender. Brown was struck at least six times, with fatal shots to the head.
Brown’s death sparked rounds of protests in the small St. Louis suburb where sporadic bursts of violence and looting were met a police crackdown of tear gas and riot gear.
Government officials, law enforcement agencies, community groups and schools are now bracing for fresh rounds of protests to break out.
In a press conference Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said the Missouri State Highway Patrol, St. Louis County Police, and St. Louis Metropolitan Police will act as a unified command, with the Missouri National Guard available to supply additional support. “Citizens should be able to express themselves peacefully without being threatened by people expressing violence and disorder,” Nixon said. “That ugliness is not representative of Missouri and it cannot be repeated.”