Attorneys representing the family of Michael Brown announced a civil suit against the city of Ferguson, Mo., Wednesday night for the wrongful death of the unarmed 18-year-old shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson last year.
The family of Michael Brown Jr. to file wrongful death civil suit against the city of Ferguson. pic.twitter.com/jsQ6nUbjta— Trymaine Lee (@trymainelee) April 23, 2015
Brown’s death triggered impassioned protests locally and sparked nationwide outrage over systemic racial imbalance in America’s justice system. Tensions escalated between citizens and local law enforcement and demonstrations gave way to riots, looting, and vandalism. The National Guard was called in to quell unrest and the world watched closely as a grand jury decided whether to indict Wilson.
Brown’s family’s attorneys, Anthony Gray and Benjamin Crump—of Florida firm Parks and Crump—asserted those proceedings were unfair, because Wilson was never cross-examined, and accused the prosecuting attorney of presenting evidence in a misleading way to the grand jury.
“The evidence has not changed, but the presentation of that evidence will,” Gray said of the wrongful death suit in a press conference Thursday. The lawsuit, which is seeking the modest sum of $75,000 plus attorneys fees from the city of Ferguson, names Wilson and alleges he “unjustifiably shot and killed (Brown), using an unnecessary and unreasonable amount (of) force in violation of (Brown’s) constitutionally guaranteed right to life.”
It also accuses Wilson of “destroying evidence and interfering with the investigation.” Further, it names his former supervisor and fiancee and former Police Chief Thomas Jackson as complicit in Wilson’s crime. Jackson later resigned as a result of the incident and subsequent investigations.
Gray and Crumps’ version of events rejects the premise that Brown attempted to grab Wilson’s weapon and asserts that Brown had his hands up in surrender when shot by Wilson.
“The standard police narrative is contradicted by the evidence,” Gray said. “There were other alternatives available… He did not have to kill Michael Brown.”
In the civil suit, the jury will be asked to make its decision based on a preponderance of evidence rather than reasonable doubt, lowering the burden of proof.
The Department of Justice intervened and after an investigation into racial imbalance issued a federal report on the Ferguson Police Department in March. The report revealed racist email exchanges and unfair practices targeting low-income citizens. Its publication exposed fundamental flaws in Ferguson’s government and led to the resignation of several senior officials including the city manager and chief of police Thomas Jackson. The DOJ demanded a series of reforms to the city’s criminal justice system under threat of a federal suit.
Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. issued the following statement in response to the DOJ’s report:
“We are encouraged that the DOJ will hold the Ferguson Police Department accountable for the pattern of racial bias and profiling they found in their handling of interactions with people of color. It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country. If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain.”
On the ground in Ferguson, racial tensions remain palpable and there has been both hope and hatred. Optimism blossomed earlier in April when two black candidates were elected to Ferguson’s City Council but locals were reminded of the long road ahead when a memorial tree planted in Brown’s honor was chopped down, its plaque desecrated within a day of it’s dedication.