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Police Weapons; Ferguson Police Press Conference: Officer Who Shot Michael Brown to be Named

Aired August 15, 2014 - 09:30   ET


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Of American policing. Indications of that are everywhere in Ferguson. Police in these towns are getting much of this combat equipment free of charge from the Pentagon. The Defense Department says just in 2013, nearly $450 million worth of military equipment was given to law enforcement. A defense official says Ferguson Police only got a couple of Humvees and a trailer, but police departments throughout Missouri, which are assisting in Ferguson, got 20 MRAPs and hundreds of M-16 rifles in recent years. Critics say often when they get these weapons, policemen's attitudes change.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Increasingly the police are trained to view the people in the communities that they're supposed to be protecting and serving as enemies.

TODD: Danski (ph) says having well-trained SWAT teams in major cities is necessary, but all too often police in smaller towns, sometimes without the proper training in how to use all this military gear, overreact when conducting minor operations, like serving search warrants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They will drive up in an armored personnel carrier, raid a person's home, holding assault rifles, holding people at gunpoint, yelling at everyone to get on the floor. This is an extremely traumatic experience. And we've seen over and over again situations like this where people are traumatized and sometimes people are injured and killed.

TODD: But current and former police say criminals have increasingly more fire power, and law enforcement can't afford to be outgunned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If people are shooting at the police and committing looting and other violent acts, then the police need to protect themselves.


TODD: Now, as we reported, the Defense Department is supporting this program, but it's also making it fairly easy for police departments to get this equipment while it takes you or I, Carol, about four to six weeks, an unending hassle and documentation just to get a passport. The Defense Department says the police department only needs to fill out a one-page form for an armored personnel carrier.

Carol. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. Brian Todd reporting live from Washington this morning.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been worried about the growing militarization of the police for such -- for a long time. In June it published a report highlighting cases in which innocent people were killed. I want to bring in Vanita Gupta now. She's the director of the ACLU's Center for Justice.

And, Vanita, first I want to read a couple of stats from your report. This is what part of the report says. "The amount of military equipment being used by local and state police agencies has increased dramatically. The value of property transferred through a Defense Department program went from $1 million in 1990 to $324 million in 1995, and to nearly $450 million in 2013." Why is this happening?

VANITA GUPTA, DEPUTY LEGAL DIR., AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: Well, part of it is that we have a surplus from the wars that we have fought overseas, and there is a need to figure out what to do with them. And so increasingly we are seeing local police departments getting very easy access to this equipment. And I think a very serious concern for the ACLU is the complete lack of oversight, meaningful oversight and transparency and accountability. We did this report and it was very hard for us to get information about exactly what trails of money and funding and equipment was going to these local police departments, and that should not be the case.

COSTELLO: Two other things cited in the report that the ACLU found especially troubling was the use of battering rams and the flash/bang grenade. What do you find problematic with their use?

GUPTA: You know, they're being used for a lot of low-level drug raids, search warrants, usually against communities of color, which should not come as a surprise, since the war on drugs has been targeted -- has targeted communities of color. And these are huge -- have huge potential for risk of violence, for escalating violence. I think that this is a real tragedy and ultimately really undermines the rule of law and the community's perception that police are there to protect them, not to engage in an us versus them kind of combat zone war against them. And ultimately it really undermines the legitimacy of police when those kinds of equipment are used to execute simple search warrants.

We found that only -- only 7 percent of the cases that we've studied were, for example, SWAT teams used to -- in serious kind of active shooter hostage situations. There is an overuse and a gross potential for overuse when too many small police departments have access and easy access to these kinds of war and military-grade weapons and materials.

COSTELLO: On the other hand, we did see plenty of looting in Ferguson and there's a question that the people in this country are well armed. Many of them have semiautomatic weapons. Police do face a growing number of people with their own personal arsenals. So shouldn't police be able to gear up to protect themselves and the community? GUPTA: Look, I think there's no question that in the cases, and I will

say, in a -- they were a small minority of cases where police needed to use a heightened use of force to protect against what was happening. But, look, you cannot use -- that is not a rationale for what happened two nights ago in Ferguson, where you saw those images, and that is what troubled the nation, that with peaceful protests, the kind of -- the armored tanks, the rubber bullets, the tear gas, those are scenes from wars and those were used against peaceful protesters. So, you know, while there is no question that police need to be sufficiently geared up in certain kinds of situations, the rise of militarization of the police around the country has really escalated the risk of violence. And there's no justification for it in the kinds of scenes that we saw two nights ago in Ferguson.

COSTELLO: And I just want to bring our viewers' attention to the image that you're seeing on the right of your screen. We're still awaiting the Ferguson police chief to approach those microphones and release the name of the officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown. You can see people gathered around, the press and some members of the community, waiting to hear. And that should happen at any time. I know the ACLU, Vanita, has been pushing for the release of this officer's name, but you're also suing for something else. What is that?

GUPTA: Well, we also filed a second lawsuit yesterday to ensure that a court makes very clear that police officers cannot demand that people stop recording scenes. And so, you know, look, the protesters have a right to peacefully express their deep anger and anguish about what happened in the shooting of Michael Brown. They have a constitutional right to do so. And the demands of police that protesters vacate, peaceful protesters vacate, that they stop recording, that they were snatching video cameras away, that is unconstitutional. And we filed a lawsuit to ensure that there would be a court ruling that prevented police officers from doing so in the future.

COSTELLO: Vanita Gupta from the ACLU, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

GUPTA: Thank you.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, Missouri residents desperate to stay safe turning to gun stores for protection. That sparked a surge of sales in everything from pistols to AR-15s. Joe Johns is following that story.

Good morning, Joe.


It's an almost predictable result. Some gun shops in the St. Louis area say firearms are just flying off the shelves as a result of the uproar in Ferguson. I'll have that coming up next.


COSTELLO: All right, we are still awaiting the Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson to take to the microphones to reveal the name of the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown last Saturday. We understand the chief is on the scene. A larger crowd is now gathering. So let's head to Ana Cabrera. She is at this QuickTrip (ph).

It's an interesting place to hold this news conference, isn't it?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been ground zero many have said. Carol, I want to give you an update. Just in the last seconds I'm hearing that the police chief is walking up to the microphones now. So as soon as he steps in front, he's just beyond my camera, we have a camera, he -- I see him now approaching the microphones, so I want to draw your attention to that microphone.

COSTELLO: All right, let's listen.

All right, so he's having a little side conversation before he takes the microphone. The interesting thing about this QuickTrip, it has become ground zero for this -- the series of terrible nights in Ferguson, Missouri. That QuickTrip was burned down and looted and you see -- all right, let's listen.

THOMAS JACKSON, FERGUSON POLICE CHIEF: First of all, thanks for everybody for coming out, welcome. Sorry about being late. I know that the time line hasn't really played out like I expected it would, but as some of you are aware, I've had a lot of sunshine law requests for information and documents about a variety of things, some of which is not available to me. I'm here to talk about two things. First of all, the name of the officer involved in the shooting, and then I've had a lot of sunshine requests for information. I'm going to be releasing information about a robbery that occurred on August 9 th , immediately preceding the altercation and shooting death of Michael Brown.

It's important to note that I have made contact with someone who is in contact with officer's (sic) Brown's family to make them aware of this information being released. What we're making available today are the dispatch records and the video footage of a robbery, a strong- armed robbery with use of force, that occurred at a local convenience mart. I cannot discuss the investigation about the attempted apprehension of the suspect in that strong-arm robbery. That goes to the county prosecutor's office. I won't be taking any questions today right now, not today. I won't be taking any questions here. I want to give this information to you, let everybody digest it, and then later on sometime after noon, he can get together again and then I'll take questions.

So I just want to give you a little time line of what happened on August 9th. From 11:48 to noon, the officer involved in the shooting was on a sick call in Glen Arc. There was an ambulance present. At 11:51 there was a 911 call from a convenience store nearby, not this one. At 11:52 dispatch gave a description of robbery suspect over the radio. A different officer arrived at the store, where the strong-arm robbery occurred. A further description, more detail, was given over the radio and stated the officer was walking toward (sic), or the suspect was walking toward QuikTrip. Our officer left the sick call, he encountered the, I'm sorry. At 12:01 p.m., our officer encountered Michael Brown on Canfield

Drive. At 12:04 a second officer arrived on the scene, immediately following the shooting, and at 12:05 a supervisor was dispatched to the scene, and subsequent officers arrived. There has been some questions about the calling of an ambulance. The ambulance that was at the sick case on Glen Arc was coming by immediately following the shooting, and they did respond to assess Michael Brown.

So I'm going to have some police officers are going to be handing out packets that have all the information that was requested and the sunshine request concerning the robbery. We're going to give those packets first of all to those agencies that have made the sunshine request, and then anybody else who wants them. I think we have enough to give out. We've got quite a few. I'm sorry. The officer that was involved in the shooting of Michael Brown was Darren Wilson. He's been a police officer for six years, has had no disciplinary action taken against him. He was treated for injuries which occurred on Saturday. Again, I won't be taking any questions at this time, but the packets will be handed out by officers.


JACKSON: The name is Darren, d-a-r-re-n. Wilson, w-i-l-s-o-n. Thank you and I'll see you again soon.


COSTELLO: Alright, you can hear the reporters shouting questions at the police chief, but says he's not going to take any questions. He gave out very little information, really. But he supposedly handed out these packets with much more information. Ana Cabrera, you're on the scene. Can you hear me yet? Ana?

CABRERA: I can hear you, Carol, yes. Do you have me?

COSTELLO: Did you get one of those packets?

CABRERA: I have not received one of those packets, but we do have reporters and producers who are there getting those packets from the police chief as he's handing those out. Now remember, the packets of information, as he just mentioned, that he is handing out, have to do with a request, an open records request, that several media outlets have put out there trying to get as much information they can about what led up to the shooting, and the shooting incident itself.

Now, the information in those packets did not have to do directly with the shooting itself. Could it be related? We'll have to wait and see, but it is about a robbery that happened on the same day that Michael Brown died, and there has been sort of a buzz about a robbery having taken place before his shooting. We now learned that it was at a convenience store that was not this QuikTrip. Many people had believed it had happened at this QuikTrip early on.

However, the tie-in here is that that robbery happened just within the moments before Michael Brown's death, that dispatch had put out there that there had been a report of a strong-arm robbery at the other convenience store, not far from here, and the suspect in that reported armed robbery had come in the direction of the QuikTrip. So that may be the connection to where we are at, and this QuikTrip is really just blocks away from where Michael Brown was shot and killed, Carol.

COSTELLO: Alright.

CABRERA So that is the information about that robbery that has been released, and now we also have the name of the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, who was also responding to that robbery earlier in the day. His name is Darren Wilson. He is a six-year veteran of this police department, and the police chief also saying that there were no disciplinary actions taken against this officer in his history of the police department.

I also know, talking to the police chief the other day, he described this police officer as somebody who is a nice young man, as he put it, who is always respectful, has good manners. Again, no disciplinary problems and that his reaction to what has happened, both the shooting and the protests that have followed, the police chief tells me that he was absolutely horrified. He said nobody wants to go to work and take another person's life and nobody wants to come home knowing that they killed someone. So he said he has been really torn up about what has happened in the community and his own actions of killing somebody, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Ana Cabrera. You stand by. I want to go to Don Lemon. If you read between the lines here, Don, it seems as if the person who committed this strong-arm robbery matched the description of Michael Brown.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let me explain what was going on here because it may be a bit confusing to viewers. Why would he be talking about a strong-arm robbery? Why would he be talking about video? So on that same day there was allegedly a robbery at a convenience store and there is videotape, or surveillance video, of that robbery at a convenience store.

Now, according to sources, they believe the person on this videotape, the surveillance video, is Michael Brown. And they're also saying a strong-arm robbery. What does that mean? Either by force or using a weapon. This convenience store was not the QT, not the one that is burned down, not the one that is close to Canfield Drive, close to that apartment complex where Michael Brown lives. So one would -- you would have to draw the conclusion, as you said, the reason that they would talk about this in this press conference is that they believe that in that videotape that they are going to release because of the sunshine law request, that they believe that Michael Brown is in this video, part of this robbery, and that is ultimately why he was stopped on the street.

When he talks about a description, a description of the suspect was given, he said the officer was on a sick call 11:48. Then at 11:51, a 911 call came from a convenience store. 11:52, the dispatch gave a description. Then he said a little bit later on, dispatch gave a more detailed description, right? Then at 12:01 the officer left the sick call and then he came into confrontation with Michael Brown on Canfield Drive. The whole reason that they're talking about this is because what he is insinuating here is that Michael Brown was involved in that robbery and the video tape will show that, thus the confrontation happening on the street. Michael Brown losing his life, carol.

COSTELLO: Alright, and I know CNN has received one of those packets from the police chief. Hopefully we'll get that video so that we can show people what exactly he's talking about. Don Lemon, you stand by. I have to take a break. We'll be back with much more in the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: All right. The Ferguson police chief just released the name of the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. His name is Darren Wilson. He's been a police officer for six years. No disciplinary action taken against him ever. He was treated for injuries on that Saturday when that tragedy happened. The police chief also talked about a strong-arm robbery that took place shortly before Michael Brown was killed. Don Lemon was getting into that for us, so tell us more, Don.

LEMON: I have some new details. I just want to correct something I said quickly. He said a strong-arm, that means no weapon. That's why it says strong arm. Otherwise it would be an armed robbery. But here's what we have learned. In those packets that they are handing out they say because of the sunshine request, in that - - the video is in those packets. We'll get that on the air very shortly here so be patient and tell our viewers to be patient here.

In the video, here's what you see, you see, I am told by producers and reporters who have viewed the videotape, that you can see the punch and then stealing of cigars is the accusation. Here's the interesting thing though, according to the witnesses and according to some of the police officers who have given press conferences, they are saying that Michael Brown was approached by the officer for walking in the middle of the street, and they mentioned nothing about a strong-arm robbery. A new development here.

Some of us have heard about it earlier the possibility of a videotape of a robbery and it believed to be Michael Brown. We did not get confirmation from police on that. It was not reported. Or confirmation from any source on that, that was just a rumor. Now we're finding out from the Ferguson police chief that they do believe that they have video and they think that in that video that it is Michael Brown stealing cigars, punching the store clerk, but not at the QT. Not at the QuickTrip, or the convenience store which is closest to his house. This was at another store.

COSTELLO: Don, why didn't the police chief come out and say that? Why didn't he just make it clear for us and for the community?

LEMON: Well, hasn't that been the question that we have been struggling with here about transparency and about getting information. Because it would have been really easy for him in that press conference just then to explain the possible connection without really going into the investigation. All he had to have said is we have information which is in these sunshine request, in this videotape packet that I've given you, and according to that tape, that's in there, it appears to be Michael Brown on videotape at a convenience store in a strong-arm robbery. It would have been very easy for him to say that and not take any questions about that. That's been the question all along. That's a good question for the police chief. I can't answer that for you, Carol.

COSTELLO: I know. Don Lemon, Pamela Brown, Joey Jackson, Carissa McGraw (ph) stick around. The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM after a break.