ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com/AP) – St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell will not file charges against former Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown following a "re-investigation" into the case.
Bell made the announcement Thursday afternoon in a news conference. It was not previously known that he had reopened the case.
Bell, calling Thursday’s announcement “one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do as a prosecutor,” made the announcement that his office could not find concrete evidence Wilson committed murder or manslaughter.
The office’s newly-formed Conviction and Incident Review Unit conducted a five-month investigation into the evidence in the case. They examined thousands of pages of witness statements, forensic evidence and police reports. At the end of their investigation, Bell felt they could not bring charges.
“Although this case represents one of the most significant moments in St. Louis’ history, the question before this office was a simple one: Could we prove beyond a reasonable doubt that when Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown, he committed murder or manslaughter under Missouri law? After an independent and in-depth review of the evidence, we cannot prove that he did.”
However Bell was quick to say his decision does not exonerate Wilson.
“The question of whether we can prove a case at trial is different than clearing him of any and all wrongdoing,” he said. “There are so many points at which Darren Wilson could have handled the situation differently, and if he had, Michael Brown may still be alive.”
Bell said he met with the Brown family Thursday morning to tell them about his findings.
“I know this is not the result they were looking for, and their pain will continue forever," Bell said.
Bell’s predecessor, seven-term St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, drew criticism for his handling of the investigation into the fatal shooting, with detractors accusing him of guiding the grand jury to its decision not to indict the Wilson, which came in November 2014, three months after Brown's death.
This decision to not charge Wilson Thursday drew a strong reaction from one member of the crowd, who began yelling at Bell and others from his office following the press conference.
"You lied! You said you were going to get a special prosecutor! You lied bro!," the man said, while wearing a shirt that read "Wesley Bell doesn't care about black people."
He added, "This your last term!" before yelling at staffers, "You're going to go with Wesley! Everybody's going to go!"
In August 2019, five years since his son’s death, Michael Brown Sr. called on Bell to reopen the investigation. At the time, Bell’s office would not say whether they would reopen the case but said it “is doing everything we can to understand the underlying issues that contributed to the tragic death of Michael Brown.”
The top prosecutor in St. Louis County is leaving office at the end of this month, after holding the office for near three decades.
Wilson told investigators that he shot Brown — who was 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed 290 pounds — in self-defense. Some people in the Canfield Green apartment complex near the shooting initially claimed that Brown had his hands up in surrender, but the grand jury found no evidence to confirm that.
The shooting led to weeks of protests that included looting and violent confrontations between demonstrators and police officers, many in riot gear and with military-style weapons. Protests escalated again after the grand jury announcement.
Although the Justice Department declined to indict Wilson, it did issue a report citing racial prejudice in the Ferguson Police Department and a municipal court system that made money through court fines and legal fees — costs largely borne by black residents. A consent agreement signed in 2016 requires significant reforms.