BLACK VOICES

Ferguson Police Report Raises More Questions Than It Answers

08/22/2014 03:50 pm 15:50:35

It’s been nearly two weeks since a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed an unarmed teenager, but the police department has yet to offer a full account of the hazy circumstances surrounding Michael Brown’s death.

An official incident report, which the American Civil Liberties Union obtained from police and released on Friday, answers none of the pressing questions that hang over the killing. If anything, it raises new ones.

The two-page document is almost entirely blank. It includes the address, time of day and a handful of other bare-bones details, but does not include a description of the scene, quotes from eyewitnesses, names of the officers involved, or any other pieces of information normally found on such documents.

“What’s going on?” asked Vanita Gupta, legal director of the ACLU. “What’s the Ferguson police chief thinking? What he’s doing?”

“We spent a fair amount of time looking at these two incident reports, trying to understand what they say, and frankly, more what they don’t say,” Gupta added. “They just further demonstrate the lack of transparency and lack of information that is being provided by the Ferguson police department about about the Michael Brown shooting.”

The Ferguson police department did not immediately respond to a voicemail requesting comment. The department only released the document after the ACLU filed a lawsuit demanding access to all incident reports pertaining to the shooting, Gupta said. Two and a half lines at the top of the report appear to be redacted.

The release comes two days after the ACLU published a similarly unrevealing report from the larger St. Louis County Police Department. Like the Ferguson document, the county report offers only a bare-bones account of the incident and nothing approaching a narrative.

But it does provide two pieces of information likely to invite scrutiny as outside investigators try to piece together an understanding of what actually happened. The report notes that the county police learned of the killing at 12:43 p.m., or about 40 minutes after the Ferguson police and others say Brown was shot. And it shows that they didn’t arrive on the scene until 1:30 p.m. -- more than 45 minutes later.

Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the county police, said the detectives were slow to respond to the shooting because they were investigating another crime and it took them time to drive from that crime scene to Ferguson.

He added that the document contains only those details that the department is required to share by law. The rest of the information is "protected until the investigation is complete," he said.

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