NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – "It began like any other day," Dorian Johnson told the St. Louis County grand jury, "I wake up, I take a shower, and I ask my little girl ... what does she like for breakfast."
Johnson was a friend of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old black man shot and killed Aug. 9 by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Missouri. He also was a witness, having spent the morning with Brown and caught in the grim twist of events that led to the fatal shooting.
His testimony filled the fourth volume in a set of 24 volumes of transcripts of witnesses' testimonies to the grand jury. These were among more than 300 pieces of evidence released Monday night by Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch with his announcement the grand jury found no probable cause to indict Wilson in Brown's death.
During a press conference, McCulloch gave a lengthy description of the testimony, especially the physical evidence and the autopsies by three forensic pathologists, including one hired by Brown's family. Saying there was little disagreement among the three reports, he contrasted that with conflicts among eyewitness accounts -- and noted some witnesses changed details between retellings, later confessing they were repeating rumors. Others said things that did not square with the physical evidence, he said.
He also made it a point to share that several black witnesses gave testimony in the privacy of the grand jury chamber, offering accounts that aligned with the physical evidence, which included an audio of the gunshots.
The physical evidence, he said, was most compelling, and so was the testimony that was consistent with it.
JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY
A part of Johnson's routine is to "get me some cigarillos," he said. "I smoke marijuana in my mornings when I start the day off, so I was going, headed to the store."
Cigarillos are small cigars which pot smokers hollow out and fill with marijuana.
By fate, Brown was in the parking lot loading up children in his aunt's car, according to Johnson. The two talked and decided to go to the store to get some cigarillos and enjoy some weed together.
Johnson said he had money to pay for the "rillos" and was surprised at the turn of events at the convenience store when Brown gave him a box of the smokes and grabbed handfuls of cigarillo singles. He said he was trying to get his head around what Brown was doing when the clerk came from around the counter to block Brown from going out the door.
OUT OF CHARACTER
After putting the box Brown had given him back on the counter, Johnson said, "I was trying to get around Big Mike and the store clerk to exit ... I didn't want any part of it, I knew there was cameras." Brown menaced the clerk into getting out of the way, but Johnson heard the man say, "I'm going to call the police."
He said he felt like an accomplice, but the two did not run or try to be covert. They just kept walking and talking about what just happened – Brown still holding the cigarillos in both hands.
"He didn't strike me as a person who would do anything like that ... that shocked me a lot," he said, "... he was basically laughing it off, be cool, be calm, stuff like that ... but in my head I'm like, I can't be calm, I can't be cool because I know what just happened and we were on camera."
The duo thought at least two police cruisers might be after them, but each of the cars passed without stopping.
The conversation switched to Johnson's life and how he had "come up with a bunch of tragedies." With no traffic on the street leading to the apartment complex, they began walking in the middle of the road. After "30 seconds" or so "traffic started going" he said, "but no one blew their horns, no one made irregular turns to get around us like we were in the way and no one yelled out their windows ... or anything like that.
"Two or three cars had passed us," he said, then Wilson drove up facing them.
"[W]hen he got on the side of us he rolled his window down and he said, 'get on the sidewalk,' but it wasn't in a polite manner ... Get the f*** on the sidewalk," Johnson elaborated when pressed about what he meant.
Johnson said he told Wilson "we were just going to get out of the street, we were close to our destination" and then he and Brown just kept walking on the center lines.
"In my mind I thought he was just, you know, okay, they're just kids, they will get out of the street shortly. ... but in almost a split second we heard the tires screech, and the officer, he pulled back in the truck very fast to the point at an angle if we didn't hear his tires screech, the back of his cruiser would have struck both of us ... . "
Johnson said he heard Wilson ask Brown, "What did you say?" Brown finished saying something, and then "in an instant" the patrol car door "was thrust open ... real hard."
"We was so close to the door that it hit mostly Big Mike," Johnson offered, "but it hit me on my left side and it closed back" as fast as it opened.
"At that time he never attempted to open the door again, like to try to get back out, but his arm came out the window," Johnson said, "that's the first initial contact that they had. The officer grabbed, he grabbed hold of Big Mike's shirt around the neck area."
Describing the struggle as a sort of tussle, he said Brown put one hand on top of the cruiser and the other right up under the window, "trying to pull off the officer's grip."
Cigarillos in hand and hands on the car, Johnson said Brown "never dropped a single pack. He still has them in his hand not dropping them, but he's pulling away ... . So he never could really get a good grip on the car, but he's really trying to pull away."
Johnson said he couldn't hear all of what they were saying but that the two men were "yelling and cussing." He described the two as having angry faces and said neither was trying to calm things down. "Punches were thrown," but it was more a "tug of war and it was very intense, very intense."
Saying Brown was trying to break free, but that Wilson "never fully let Big Mike go," he described how the officer shifted his left grip from Brown's right arm to get "a good grasp" on Brown's shirt. Brown took advantage of the moment to face Johnson and tell him to "grab these, bro" -- referring to the cigarillos.
In shock, Johnson said, "my hands open to where he could put the rillos in my hand." He knew something needed to be done to calm the situation, but said he could not open his mouth. "I could not speak at that time and the cigarillos were placed in my hand," and Brown turned back to face the officer, he said.
With his hands free Brown could get a good grip on the car, now, and was pulling away with more power and force – and Wilson still trying to pull him inside. But, Johnson explained, Wilson was not using both hands.
"The officer is only using his left arm and trying to pull Big Mike in ... he looked strong enough to pull ... but not strong enough to fully pull him into the car," he said. Brown was overpowering Wilson, "and the officer couldn't get him too close to the car."
The struggle continued back and forth, then Wilson said, "I'll shoot." And he fired, according to Johnson.
"The bullet came outside the car and struck him ... in the chest ... I seen blood ... ."
"I never saw at no point in time Big Mike's hand touch the gun or anything like that because of the gun was already drawn out."
"My eyes got big," he said, "... that was when the officer let go and we were both able to run."
Brown ran past Johnson who tried to get into the first of three stopped cars behind the patrol cruiser. Wilson passed Johnson, too, walking -- fast walking, but not running -- with his gun drawn. When Brown passed the third car in line, Wilson fired again, Johnson said.
"Pow ... I didn't know if it hit him or not," he exclaimed, but Brown "kind of jerked and that's when he stopped running" and turned to face Wilson "but not so close."
"I could tell he was injured," because both hands were up, one a little lower than the other. Brown said he did not have a gun, according to Johnson. "But he's still mad, he still has his angry face."
Brown did not run toward Wilson, Johnson said, adding that after his friend turned to face the officer, "several more shots came."
"His body kind of just went down," he said, "... just kind of collapsed."
Wilson definitely fired shots while Brown was going down, Johnson emphasized. "The last shot he fired he was so close to the ground, it looked like to me he was already on the ground."
AFTER THE FACT(S)
During the testimony, jurors tried to fix the relative sizes of the two friends. Johnson said he was about 5 feet 6 inches tall or a little more and weighed 123 or 125 pounds, and Brown was described as 6 feet 4 inches and 285 pounds.
Wilson is the same height as Brown but carries 210 pounds on his frame.
All three autopsies that were performed showed no bullet wounds to Brown's back. He was shot four times in the right arm and twice in the head. One bullet that hit his head entered the top as if he had been leaning forward. The bullet to his eye was said to have traveled through his face, exited his jaw and re-entered his collarbone.
The police vehicle shows that a shot fired from within it punctured the door about 6 to 8 inches below the window frame.