Shooting turns cop into pariah

2014-08-21 19:56
Demonstrators hold up a 'don't shoot' sign during a protest at the killing of teenager Michael Brown on in Ferguson, Missouri. (Scott Olson, Getty Images, AFP)

Demonstrators hold up a 'don't shoot' sign during a protest at the killing of teenager Michael Brown on in Ferguson, Missouri. (Scott Olson, Getty Images, AFP)

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Ferguson - It took six months, and as many bullets, for Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to go from local hero to internationally-known outcast for the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Wilson, 28, who is white, has slipped into hiding since his fateful 9 August encounter with the 18-year-old college-bound student on a quiet residential street in this St Louis suburb.

Brown's death ignited protests, looting and nightly show-downs with police armed with tear gas - and renewed a fierce debate among Americans about race, law enforcement and the use of lethal force.

Some witnesses say the beefy, six-foot-four Brown - a suspect in the liquor-store theft of a box of cigars just minutes earlier - had his hands in the air in surrender when he was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.

Others assert that Brown - stopped while jaywalking down the middle of the street - had threateningly "bum-rushed" Wilson in an apparent struggle to get hold of the officer's side arm.

ABC News, quoting a source close to Wilson who did not want to be identified, reported Thursday that Wilson sustained "a serious facial injury" in the incident.

St Louis County Robert McCulloch says Wilson might be invited to testify before a grand jury looking into the shooting, amid growing calls in Ferguson that the officer be tried for murder.

Wilson joined the Ferguson police department, which has 50 white and three black officers, four years ago, after two years with its counterpart in the adjacent, and edgier, community of Jennings.

Beams with pride

Sporting a crisp blue uniform and crew cut, Wilson beamed with pride when he was presented with a letter of commendation last February by Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson "in recognition of outstanding police work."

"While investigating a suspicious-vehicle call, acting alone, you struggled with one subject and were able to gain control of the subject and his car keys until assistance arrived," said Jackson at a city hall ceremony, recorded on video.

"Later it was discovered that the subject was breaking down a large quantity of marijuana for sale. Great job, Darren."

Prior to Brown's shooting, Wilson had never faced disciplinary action, chief Jackson said last Friday when he belatedly disclosed the officer's identity - once social media accounts connected to him and his family were suspended.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Wilson moved to St Louis with his mother after his parents divorced when he was about three years old, according to public records cited by the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper.

In 2001, his thrice-married mother was sentenced to five years on probation after pleading guilty to charges of stealing, forgery and dealing in bogus checks. She died the following year.

Married, then soon divorced

Wilson graduated from high school in 2004, married in 2011 but successfully filed for divorce the following year. His salary at the Ferguson police department was $45 302 a year.

He bought his 1 490-square-foot Crestwood ranch-style bungalow - with three bedrooms and a swimming pool - for $175 000 last October, and reportedly shares it with his girlfriend, who is also a Ferguson police officer.

Wilson is not without supporters.

An online Support Darren Wilson campaign has drawn more than 50,000 "likes" on Facebook and $130,000 in donations, ahead of a weekend rally in St Louis. Late on Wednesday, a middle-aged white couple turned up in Ferguson holding pro-Wilson placards.

"He's a really quiet guy. He is just really well mannered... He did not have a temper," an old friend of Wilson told ABC News on condition of anonymity.

"I can never imagine him shooting anybody - even as a police officer."

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