Why Ferguson City Officials Still Haven't Met with the Family of Michael Brown

Sep 12, 2014 at 9:00 am
Michael Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, center, and father, Michael Brown Sr., right, at a national march in their son's memory. - Bryan Sutter
Bryan Sutter
Michael Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, center, and father, Michael Brown Sr., right, at a national march in their son's memory.

On Wednesday night Daily RFT had an opportunity to speak with Ferguson mayor James Knowles about the previous evening's city-council meeting and a raft of changes to the city's municipal code. At the meeting, he was asked dozens of questions which he could not -- according to standard council operating procedure -- answer. More than one of the speakers during the public comment asked why the city of Ferguson has not apologized to the family of Michael Brown (though one sniffed that an apology would be meaningless anyway).

Daily RFT put that question to Knowles Wednesday night. He said, "I know [Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson] was able to meet with them the day of the incident and express our condolences. Very quickly attorneys got involved. Early on we tried to have a couple meetings with the family."

Daily RFT then called Anthony Gray, the local attorney on the legal team for the family of Brown, to confirm that account. Gray emphatically denied that the city reached out, either to him or to Brown's parents, for a meeting.

"No. I know of no effort of the mayor of Ferguson trying to reach out to the family. I know of absolutely no efforts whatsoever, and the suggestion is almost offensive, to be honest with you," Gray said.

Click here for all coverage of Michael Brown's death and the unrest in Ferguson.

click to enlarge Mayor James Knowles, second from the left, at an NPR forum. Michel Martin, right. - August Jennewein, courtesy UMSL
August Jennewein, courtesy UMSL
Mayor James Knowles, second from the left, at an NPR forum. Michel Martin, right.

Back on August 13, Chief Jackson did tell the media he was going to meet with the family -- you can watch the video of that announcement here, in a Huffington Post article titled "Ferguson Police to Meet with Michael Brown's Mother." Knowles told an NPR forum hosted by Michel Martin on August 28 that a meeting between the chief of Ferguson police and the family took place, and that he'd also made attempts (relevant tape between 1:03 and 1:04):

Martin: Have you ever, forgive me, apologized to the family for the way he was treated?

Knowles: I have not had the opportunity to meet with his family.

Martin: Why not?

Knowles: Our chief did have an opportunity both with his mother that day, express the condolences and sympathies of our city and our department. We also have met with his family. We've tried in the subsequent weeks to have meetings, unfortunately the family has sent representatives instead of coming themselves but...unfortunately I have not had that opportunity.

Martin: Why don't you just go to them? Why don't you just go to them and say, 'As your mayor I'm sorry, and we'll look into this?' Did that not occur to you?

Knowles: We've invited them to come to us, we've tried to reach out, absolutely, absolutely the sympathies of the city and myself are clearly with the family.

Gray also told Daily RFT that not only has the mayor of Ferguson not reached out to the family, they also have not met with Chief Jackson, not on the day of the shooting, not ever.

"Somebody should have explained to [the mother] and the father why they were there, tried to make some effort to console them at that point," said Gray. "The fact that they want to do it later...I find it highly offensive.

"They missed a whole bunch of opportunities in between that -- like I just told you," Gray continues. "They had the mother and father right there at the scene. I'm not aware of Chief Jackson talking to anybody."

Gray then called Michael Brown Sr., Mike's father, while on the phone with Daily RFT to confirm that there was no misunderstanding.

"You guys were at the scene, I saw you. No police officer came over to you while Mike Mike was laying in the street," Gray said, apparently into a speakerphone with Brown Sr.

"We asked plenty of times. I got no information," said Brown Sr. "No."

"I want to make sure that I'm not missing anything," said Gray. "The answer is not only just no...I'm just going to say no. I do not recall anyone reaching out to me saying either the chief or the mayor want to talk to the family, and I am the local point person for this family."

Eric Davis, a cousin of Michael Brown and a spokesman for the family, also said he was not aware of anyone speaking with the mother, Lesley McSpadden, at the scene.

"They would not let her go to her child's body," he told Daily RFT. "That was the only time that they talked to her, and they told her to get back."

A meeting between the parents of Brown and Chief Jackson was indeed scheduled for August 14, arranged by members of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP. Chapter president Adolphus Pruitt acknowledged that he was the go-between, but he first organized a kind of pre-meeting with Jackson, several members of the NAACP and members of the U.S. Justice Department's Community Relations Services. The family was not present. It was at that meeting that Jackson revealed he was preparing to release a surveillance tape of Mike shoplifting at a local convenience store the same day as the shooting.

"We met with [Jackson] and in that meeting he told us emphatically that he had so much pressure on him from media wanting access to that tape that if we could assist him in any way to not do that, he would appreciate it," Pruitt told Daily RFT.

Pruitt said that after learning of the existence and potential release of the surveillance video, they decided to scuttle the meeting between Jackson and the parents.

"It would not have been a good thing for him to sit up in front of the family talking about reconciliation and he just dropped that bombshell trying to damage the guy's reputation," said Pruitt. "We decided that was probably not a good thing to do."

Pruitt said he and the DOJ representative who was also at the meeting went to work looking for reasons to legitimize not releasing the tape, and were stunned when Jackson went ahead with the release on August 15. Pruitt said he was further taken aback after an article on the Blot revealed that only one Sunshine Request filed with the Ferguson Police Department directly requested video and that the language of the request was very broad: "events leading up to and including the shooting of Michael Brown."

Pruitt has subsequently fired off several letters to the DOJ and local U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan charging that Chief Jackson released the video "under false circumstance not only to constitute a breach of trust with both the Press & Community; but also a possible attempt to influence the outcome of the Federal Investigation with respect to the shooting of Michael Brown." Read one of these letters below:

USDOJ Deputy Chief Christy Lopez Letter 09.05.14

Daily RFT then circled back to Mayor Knowles who confirmed Pruitt's account of the meeting between Jackson and the NAACP. Knowles said the original plan had been for he and Jackson to sit down with the family and explain about the existence of the surveillance tape.

"The meeting was supposed to go down the day or two day before the release of the tape to let the family know what the situation was, what the request was and what we would have to do, so they could see and understand from our perspective what we're trying to do and not trying to do, which is defame them," said Knowles. "The hope was to meet before so they understood the sincerity that we didn't want to offend them, we didn't want to upset them, we wanted them to be able to see that."

Knowles said he was personally asked by television reporters about the existence of a shoplifting tape and that those kinds of verbal requests pushed the release as well.

"Our attorney said we had to release the information."

Update 9/15/14: Mayor Knowles specifically mentioned that days before the August 15 tape release, reporters from KTVI FOX 2 asked him about the existence of surveillance footage of Brown Jr. shoplifting. Daily RFT just heard back from anchor Mandy Murphey via email who said she is the one who asked: "I asked him about the robbery video because I had learned about it several days before it was released. I asked him the question and he gave me no information about it. He said he didn't know anything about it at the time. I put in a formal sunshine request for the documented information leading up to the shooting."

Since the tape's release Knowles said he's not sure "how many times we've reached out to them directly," but that he has not personally contacted any representatives of the family or the family's legal team. He reiterated that he sends his condolences.

"I know it's been a very difficult time for a lot of people. I would hope at some point I'd be able to meet with the family face to face. I realize it's a trying to time for them," he said. "My door is always open to any resident of Ferguson."

Email the author at [email protected].