Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson was caught in a huge lie on Friday when it was revealed that he did not get “a lot of Freedom of Information requests” for a surveillance video from a local store the day 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. On Aug. 15th, Jackson finally released Wilson’s identity after keeping it hidden for nearly a week. However, at the same press conference, Jackson also released still photos and a video from a ‘strong-arm robbery’ that occurred at Ferguson Market minutes before Brown was confronted and killed by Wilson on August 9th.
When pressed for a reason he released both Wilson’s identity and this video at the exact same time, Jackson stated that he had received numerous media requests for the specific information related to the apparent robbery of the store. However, Matthew Keys, who writes for The Blot, confirmed on Friday that the Ferguson Police Department had not received any specific FOIA requests relating to a robbery involving Brown. In fact, the only request they got related to Brown stemmed from a general request from Joel Currier, a crime and police reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
After Keys article had come out on Friday, the Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge asked Currier on Twitter the specific nature of Currier’s request to the police department regarding Brown. Currier responded to Sledge with the following tweets.
@mgsledge, I can’t recall if I knew of robbery at time of request. I made it broad in hopes of getting as much material as possible.
— joelcurrier (@joelcurrier) September 5, 2014
As Keys pointed out in his article, Currier was the only one who made a specific request to Ferguson PD, and his request was actually quite broad and encompassing. Other pieces of information that could have been included per Currier’s request (911 call, dispatch reports, incident report) have still not been released. Instead, Jackson decided to release a tape of an alleged robbery that he admitted later had nothing to do with the encounter between Wilson and Brown. The police chief himself has stated that Wilson only confronted Brown over jaywalking and was not aware of any apparent robbery that had been committed minutes earlier.
Jackson’s release of the tape reignited tension in the community and led to a renewed outburst of violence and looting that evening. After a day and evening filled with peaceful protests that Thursday, anger and frustration with local police swelled back up on Friday after Jackson’s press conference and subsequent statements. Eventually, the police force on the scene, commanded by Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, resorted back to the militarized tactics that brought heavy criticism in the days immediately following Brown’s death.
In my personal opinion, I think Jackson released the tape for petty and personal reasons. After he and St. Louis County police chief Jon Belmar had been roundly criticized for their excessive use of police force in dealing with protesters, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon removed them from command in Ferguson and placed Johnson at the helm. Johnson then bonded with the protesters as he walked with them as they marched and spoke with them personally. He also took a ‘soft’ approach, asking his officers to not wear tactical gear and basically allow protesters to gather peacefully and make their voices heard.
This obviously rubbed Jackson the wrong way. Therefore, he decided to antagonize and incite the community by releasing the store tape the same time as Wilson’s name. He knew this would eventually cause anger to spill over and force Johnson to eventually change tactics. While Johnson allowed looting to take place on Friday without sending in a heavy police presence, eventually he pushed for a curfew and allowed the officers on the scene to utilize SWAT gear and the military-style vehicles and weapons that had been heavily criticized.
Beyond setting up Johnson to fail, Jackson also likely released the tape to provide further cover for Wilson. He knew that releasing Wilson’s name was going to be a huge story. Therefore, he wanted to do whatever possible to distract and redirect the focus away from Wilson. Jackson’s big idea was to go ahead and use his national spotlight to portray Brown as a vicious thug and make that the story. All of a sudden, the media would write about a supposed robbery and push Wilson and his identity to the side.
Thankfully for the people of Ferguson, the Department of Justice is investigating the entire police department for civil rights violations. Considering the actions of its police chief in just these past few weeks, it seems apparent that they will find quite a bit to hammer the PD on. As for Jackson, how this guy still has a job is beyond me. He needs to be fired ASAP!