Footage from a new documentary on the Michael Brown case shows evidence that apparently contradicts police accounts saying the teen committed a strongarm robbery of a Ferguson, Mo., convenience store shortly before he was shot to death by a police officer, The New York Times reports.
Previously unseen surveillance video shown in the documentary “Stranger Fruit,” which premiered Saturday at the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Tex., shows Brown, 18, in the store shortly after 1 a.m. on August 9, 2014, handing a small bag (which filmmaker Jason Pollack says was marijuana, but the contents of the bag have not been independently confirmed) over the counter to workers and in exchange taking two boxes of cigarillos. He then walks toward the door of the store with them, but turns around and hands them back to the store clerk to hold behind the counter for him before exiting.
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Later, at about 11:50 a.m., that day he returns for the package and shortly thereafter encounters Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shoots him to death. Pollack says in the documentary that what happened was a transaction between Brown and the store clerks and that he did not commit any crimes, contrary to police reports. He obtained the new video after reading St. Louis County police information about the early morning surveillance video.
“There was some type of exchange for one thing for another,” said Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden in the documentary. “These people know each other well enough that this is the relationship that they have.”
Pollack says St. Louis County authorities saw the early morning video, but leave out what happened in their report of Brown’s shooting. “Mike traded the store a little bag of weed and got two boxes of cigarillos in return,” he says in the documentary. “He left his items at the store and he went back the next day to pick them up. Mike did not rob the store.”
In an e-mail to the Times, St. Louis County police spokesman Sgt. Shawn McGuire says the footage from the 1 a.m. video was unreleased because it had no relevance to the police investigation, also adding that he could not confirm that the video was authentic.
But police accounts say that Brown deliberately took the cigarillos before leaving the store, and insists that he was a suspect in a robbery. The later interaction between the store clerks and Brown has not been linked to his encounter with Wilson, who has maintained that he was in a violent confrontation with Brown before the shooting. Other witnesses say Brown had his hands up in a gesture of surrender to Wilson. A grand jury decided not to indict Wilson in Brown’s death later in 2014. Also a federal investigation found cleared him of criminal responsibility. He resigned from the department in November, 2014.
Jay Kanzler, an attorney for the convenience store, contradicts Pollack’s description of the events and says the two visits to the convenience store are unconnected.
“There was no transaction,” Mr. Kanzler told the Times.. “There was no understanding. No agreement. Those folks didn’t sell him cigarillos for pot. The reason he gave it back is he was walking out the door with unpaid merchandise and they wanted it back.”
Andy Patel, the co-owner of the convenience store, also disputes Pollack’s telling of the events, saying to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that although he wasn’t working the night of the first encounter, he would have known about any exchange. However, he maintained in the later encounter, that Brown “grabbed the cigarillos and stole them.” Police video released shortly after Brown’s death seems to show Brown pushing Patel as he left the store, prompting a customer to call 911.
But Pollack, who spent two years in Ferguson researching his documentary, says the police failed to tell the full story of the events leading up to the shooting, including both interactions at the convenience store and intended to destroy Brown’s character.
“So this shows their intention to make him look bad. And shows suppression of evidence.”
Brown’s shooting, along with the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., touched off weeks of protests against lethal interactions between police and people of color, and was a catalyst to the Black Lives Matter movement.