The St. Louis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has called on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch a special review of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson for his reaction to the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager last month.
In a letter dated Sept. 5, Adolphus Pruitt with the Missouri chapter of the NAACP called on Christy Lopez and other officials at the DOJ to review Jackson’s release of a surveillance video that purports to show 18-year-old Ferguson resident Michael Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery and assault at a convenience store minutes before he was fatally shot by a police officer on Aug. 9.
At a press conference six days after the shooting, Jackson released both the name of the officer — Darren Wilson — along with a copy of the surveillance video to members of the press. Though he claimed at the time that the alleged robbery and subsequent shooting were unrelated, Jackson told reporters he had to release the tape because his office had received numerous Sunshine Law requests for the video.
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“We’ve had this tape for a while, and we had to diligently review the information that was in the tape, determine if there was any other reason to keep it,” Jackson said. “We got a lot of Freedom of Information requests for this tape, and at some point it was just determined we had to release it. We didn’t have good cause, any other reason not to release it under FOI.”
But a review by TheBlot Magazine of Sunshine Law requests catalogued by the City of Ferguson found that no reporters had specifically requested the tape before police released it. Out of 15 formal requests filed by reporters prior to the Aug. 15 press briefing, only one request was broad enough that it could have possibly included the surveillance footage.
After TheBlot published its first story on Sept. 5, a city official released a statement claiming that several reporters had made verbal requests for the tape, and that “city personnel cataloged all requests and treated them in the same manner as it would any Sunshine Law request.” A subsequent review of 234 pages of records requests found that city officials did catalogue some verbal requests from reporters, but all of those requests were documented after police released the tape — and none of the verbal requests sought the surveillance video.
According to Pruitt, Jackson met with representatives of the NAACP and the DOJ one day before his office released the surveillance video. At the meeting, Jackson asserted that media requests were forcing him to release the tape, and asked the NAACP and the DOJ to help him find ways to block the release.
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“We met with [Jackson], and in that meeting he told us emphatically that he had so much pressure on him from media wanting access to that tape — that if we could assist him in any way to not do that, he would appreciate it,” Pruitt said in an interview published by the St. Louis Riverfront Times.
The paper corroborated with Ferguson Mayor James Knowles that the meeting took place. Pruitt told the paper that he and a DOJ representative asked the police chief for some time to find reasons not to release the tape. According to the paper, Pruitt said he was “stunned” to hear that Jackson released the tape anyway just one day later.
After learning that Jackson had misled reporters and the public about the release of the tape, Pruitt sent a letter to local, state and federal officials calling for a thorough examination of the police chief’s actions.
“Chief Jackson’s release of the video under false circumstances not only constitute a breach of trust with both the press (and the) community, but also a possible attempt to influence the outcome of the federal investigation with respect to the shooting of Michael Brown,” Pruitt wrote in his letter.
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TheBlot reached out to a DOJ official who received Pruitt’s letter. That official referred our inquiry to a press officer, who did not return a request for comment by press time.
On Sept. 4, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would open a civil rights investigation examining the Ferguson Police Department’s response to civil unrest following Brown’s death as well as prior civil and criminal events in which the police department was involved. The investigation was announced after Holder personally met with locals in Ferguson and heard “compelling” concerns of citizens who were systematically targeted with excessive force, bench warrants and egregious fines.
According to The Washington Post, at least six individuals associated with the Ferguson Police Department are at the center of civil lawsuits that stem from allegations of excessive force. In a majority of the cases cited by the Post, the officers involved were white, and the victims involved were black.