The St. Louis County prosecutor released unedited surveillance video on Monday that shows the late Michael Brown at a Ferguson, Missouri, convenience store many hours before he was killed by a police officer in 2014.
Prosecutor Robert McCulloch made the video public to counter claims in a documentary film that premiered Saturday. Filmmaker Jason Pollock had obtained the previously unreleased footage of Brown and included parts of it in his documentary “Stranger Fruit.” The film was shown over the weekend at the high-profile South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
“It’s not as though it was hidden away somewhere,” McCulloch said. The video, which shows the first of two visits by Brown to the store that day, hadn’t been released previously because it was considered irrelevant to the investigation of his death, the prosecutor explained. Investigators and attorneys on both sides have long been aware it existed, he added.
“This is not new, not a surprise and not relevant,” McCulloch said.
Shortly after the prosecutor released the unedited video, lawyer Jay Kanzler, who is representing the convenience store and its clerks, also made it public.
The two sides remain locked in disagreement on what the silent footage actually depicts. Pollock argues that his reading of the early-morning video puts the second, better-known video of Brown returning to the store roughly 10 hours later in a new light.
The second video, taken not long before the teenager died, was released by police and circulated widely. Inside Ferguson Market and Liquor, Brown is seen pushing the store co-owner and committing what investigators said was a strong-arm robbery of cigarillos. The altercation is what police said prompted the store to call 911. Officer Darren Wilson responded to the alleged robbery and shot Brown soon after.
Pollock contends in his documentary that the two visits were related. The first video, he argues, shows Brown trading marijuana for cigarillos with the store clerks and then leaving the cigarillos with them to collect later. The second video shows Brown returning for his items, Pollock claims.
McCulloch said the video that he and Kanzler released Monday is a complete, unedited version of the footage Pollock’s film highlights. It includes the clerks rejecting Brown’s bartering attempt, which was left out of the “poorly edited” and “pathetic” film cut, McCulloch said.
Pollock defended his documentary on CNN following the prosecutor’s press conference.
“Whatever they’re saying about it is obviously not true,” he said.
“All [Brown] was doing was going to get his stuff,” Pollock said of the second visit, where Brown is seen pushing the store owner. “The old guy didn’t know about [the deal], and there were younger guys there and they didn’t want to say anything to the old guy.”
Store co-owner And Patel told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he wasn’t there when Brown’s first visit occurred and if there was some kind of transaction between Brown and the clerks, he didn’t know about it.
At his press conference, McCulloch called the suggestion that Brown came back to pick up items “stupid.”
“If there’s anything at all there,” he added, “it’s an attempt by Brown to barter for goods but that the store clerks declined.”
Intense debate surrounds the events leading up to Brown’s shooting two and a half years ago. Many Ferguson residents saw Brown’s death as the unjust killing of a young black man at the hands of a white police officer. The shooting sparked massive protests and violent clashes, which prompted a Department of Justice investigation.
A grand jury declined to indict Wilson, and the DOJ cleared him of civil rights violations. But the DOJ report into Ferguson’s police department revealed intense racial tensions between the department’s mostly white cops and the town’s mostly black residents. Black residents were commonly treated more harshly than white ones by law enforcement.