Darren Wilson, the white police officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, led to months of unrest and revived a debate on race and law enforcement in the US, will not face federal criminal charges.
The Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that after a six-month inquiry it has concluded no civil rights charges should be brought against Wilson for killing Michael Brown. A grand jury in St Louis decided last November not to indict Wilson on state charges.
“There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety,” the Department of Justice report concluded, according to law enforcement officials.
The decision concludes the second half of a politically-charged investigation into Wilson’s shooting of Brown on 9 August following an altercation in a residential side-street.
It was widely expected by protesters who allege that Brown’s killing was a criminal act.
Prosecutors might have charged Wilson under a 19th-century federal law – known technically as Section 242 of Title 18 – that makes it a crime for anyone acting with government authority to “wilfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
Evidence that Wilson intentionally victimised Brown because of his race would have been needed for civil rights officials at the Justice Department to prosecute the 28-year-old officer, who quit his job at the Ferguson police department following the state grand jury’s decision.
The same high bar was in place for a two-year investigation into the 2012 killing in Florida of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watchman. The Justice Department said last month that Zimmerman would not be charged .
Wilson’s supporters accused Eric Holder, the attorney general, of burying news that no charges would be brought on the same day his officials accused Ferguson police of a pattern of racial bias in a sweepingly critical report after a review of the department’s practices.
“The FBI appeared to conclude their inquiries into officer Wilson months ago,” said Ron Hosko, the president of the law enforcement legal defense fund. “Yet the Attorney General seems to have delayed the announcement of this decision despite knowing the conclusions.”
Protests erupted on the streets of Ferguson, a small northern suburb of St Louis, after Brown’s death in August. For successive nights, heavily armed police clashed with demonstrators, firing teargas and rubber bullets to drive hundreds of people out of the centre of the town. A night of rioting, looting and arson followed November’s grand jury decision.
An attorney for Brown’s family was expected to comment later on Wednesday. Wilson’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
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