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Understanding the grand jury ruling on Michael Brown’s death

A grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown. Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill get reaction to the verdict from Rev. Willis Johnson of Wellspring Church, Roger Goldman of Saint Louis University and Gil Alba, former detective at the New York City Police Department.

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  • ROBERT MCCULLOCH, St. Louis County Prosecutor:

    …Mr. Brown's movements.

    (END VIDEO CLIP)

  • GWEN IFILL:

    That's Robert McCulloch, the prosecutor in St. Louis County, Missouri, reporting that what he describes as an accurate and tragic story but that ends in no probable cause being found in order to — to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot, in August, Michael Brown, the unarmed teenager. It's created, as you can see, lots of unrest in Ferguson for months.

    He told us that there were 25 days of grand jury meetings, 70 hours of testimony, 60 witnesses, including three different medical examiners, hundreds of photos and that they basically concluded that a lot of the things that we had heard, a lot of the eyewitnesses did not — were not consistent with the stories that they found, the evidence they say they have now found, that the physical evidence basically refuted a lot of the eyewitness evidence, and that, as a result tonight, there will be no indictment for that Ferguson police officer, as you can also have been able to see, there had already been some, at least so far, peaceful protests.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That's right. I think it's fair to say, Gwen, what we're listening to now is the prosecutor recount what different witnesses said. But he — what you just summed up is — is what was important tonight. There is no indictment of Officer Darren Wilson.

    They are saying there's no probable cause. He was trying to explain it was an exhaustive process. He talked about wit — eyewitnesses, but in the end, he said, it's the evidence that — that mattered the most.

    We do have three guests we want to bring in to talk about what we've just heard.

    They are Roger Goldman. He's a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law. Gil Alba, he's a former New York Police Department detective. He currently runs a private investigation firm. And Rev. Willis Johnson. He's a pastor at Wellspring Church in Ferguson.

    Let me turn to you first, Reverend — Rev. Johnson.

    You heard the — the prosecutor's explanation for why no probable cause, why no indictment.

    What's your reaction?

  • REV. WILLIS JOHNSON, Wellspring Church:

    I'm very sad and as a parent, as a — as a — a leader in my community, my heart aches. My — my — my spirit is heavy. I'm just very — very disappointed.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Rev. Johnson, it's been very interesting to — that people have been basically bracing themselves for what they expected, that — that they might get exactly this outcome tonight.

    Did you find anything that the prosecutor said in making the case here about physical evidence versus the original testimony?

    Did you find any of it persuasive?

  • WILLIS JOHNSON:

    Sister Ifill, I — I understand — I won't even begin to — to tell you that I — I suspected something different, as much as I hoped, I'm not surprised. I'm not saddened because — simply because there was not an indictment. Two — two families will never be the same again.

    So there's nothing that was going to be said this everything that was going to bring the type of resolution, whether that's for Michael Brown's family and having their son back, or Darren Wilson and having his life back.

    What I'm disappointed by is what — what I heard, which was some very, at times, insulting and insensitive kinds of description. I understand the law. I respect it. I respect the technicalities of it.

    But what I — what I sensed inherent in the — in not only this decision, but really in the presentation of it, was that, once again, we have not and are not taken seriously, the human life.

    I mean we — this is not just something that is just simply easily explained away or is justifiable or probable.

    And that's why my heart aches. I think we are just — we are just really challenged as people and now our community is further challenged. And I just hope that we will respond in the days to come with level heads and with open hearts and still be optimistic and hopeful.

    But it is — it is very disturbing and very disappointing.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let's bring in Roger Goldman, who is a professor of law at Saint Louis University.

    Roger Goldman, what did you hear that persuades you — I mean what is your best understanding of why they did not find probable cause?

    ROGER GOLDMAN, Saint Louis University School of Law: Well, Judy, this is very, very typical. I think most people you would talk to ahead of time would have predicted just this result in these officers involved shooting. You just look nationally at how very difficult these cases are to sort out.

    so it was no surprise, as I say, tragic. And the only hope is that we can move forward to make some much needed reforms here and throughout the country.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But in terms of the evidence that was provided, his description of what happened, was that a persuasive case to your ears or not?

  • ROGER GOLDMAN:

    Well, from what he said and, you know, of course I wasn't there, what the grand jurors heard, but when you have that kind of disagreement among witnesses and the forensic evidence is the other way, you can understand why the grand jury came to its decision.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And Gil Alba, a New York police detective, briefly, your reaction, please.

  • GIL ALBA, Former New York Police Department Detective:

    Well, certainly I'm not surprised. But here you have a — a white police officer shooting a black male who had no weapon.

    So what does the grand jury, what do they listen to and what's the biggest thing?

    Is it the evidence? I don't think so. I think it's the intent. What was the intent of the officer?

    And that intent — and what I mean by intent is did he fear for his life, not for his safety or not did he get hurt or anything else, did he fear for his life?

    Could he have shot him in the leg? If he could shoot him in the leg, then he's not afraid of his — that he's going to get killed.

    So I think that the grand jury thought about it, listened to his articulate the — how he went about doing this and…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All right…

  • GIL ALBA:

    — and I think that's the end result.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Thank you very much, Gil Alba, Rev. F. Willis Johnson at the Wellspring Church in Ferguson and Roger Goldman at St. Louis University.

    Thank you all very much for your time…

  • GIL ALBA:

    Thank you for having me.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    — and for your insights tonight.

  • GIL ALBA:

    Thank you.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    OK.

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