FERGUSON, Mo. — If the intent of the embattled Ferguson, Mo., police department was to calm an anxious community by identifying the officer involved in the deadly shooting of an unarmed teenager, the action only raised more questions and tensions Friday.
Michael Brown's family and legal representatives said they were "outraged'' that Ferguson Chief Thomas Jackson implicated the teenager as a suspect in a theft of cigars from a convenience store at the same time the long-sought identity of the shooter, Officer Darren Wilson, was disclosed.
"The prolonged release of the officer's name and then the subsequent alleged information regarding a robbery is the reason why the family and the local community have such distrust for the local law enforcement agencies,'' the Brown family said in a written statement.
"It is no way transparent to release the still photographs alleged to be Michael Brown and refuse to release the photographs of the officer that executed him,'' the statement continued, referring to surveillance images that the police released Friday linking Brown as a possible suspect in a convenience store robbery.
Jackson later told reporters that he released the images because he "had to,'' based on several formal requests from media organizations.
Law enforcement analysts said it is not uncommon for police to offer some possible explanation for officers' decisions to use deadly force. But the release nearly a week after the shooting and in wake of police clashes with the community risked sowing additional distrust.
"If a police department feels it has some basis to take the action it did, it's pretty common to release this kind of information,'' said Bill Geller, who has done extensive research on police use of deadly force. "Whether that explanation will play out, that's a whole separate question.''
Dennis Nowicki, a law enforcement consultant and former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief, said that transparency generally "goes a long way toward building confidence in the community.
"But the subsequent release of information (in this case) may suffer because of a lack of transparency from the beginning,'' Nowicki said. "My belief is that you share as much information as you can when you have it.''
Protests in Ferguson, Missouri continued into the night Friday as high-profile civil rights activist Jesse Jackson came to cheer-on protesters. It comes hours after police identified the officer who fired the fatal shots. (Aug. 15) AP
University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, who has written extensively on police conduct matters, said the decision by Ferguson, Mo., police to reverse course and identify the officer involved in the shooting clearly showed that withholding the information was "costing them too much'' in the community.
"I don't like the spin they put on it,'' Harris said, referring to additional information that characterized Brown as a possible suspect in a local robbery. "But I think that's what they should be doing going forward, being as transparent as they can. In retrospect, though, in the next several days, I think we'll be more focused on what happened'' in the moments leading up to the shooting.
In Ferguson, the police department's new communications strategy was clearly not winning the day.
Justin Dear, 25, who said he knew Brown for about a year and a half before the teen was gunned down, also was angered that police had released the information implicating Brown as a robbery suspect.
"It's crazy because they are still trying to figure out a way to cover up this cop," Dear said. "They are trying to paint this bad picture out of a good kid."
Dozens of protesters echoed feelings of frustration and distrust about the timing of the release. Many said the officer's name should have been released days ago and not along with robbery information.
"It's like they are trying to take the focus off what the real issues are," said Terry Jones, 47, of Ferguson. "The timing was bad. It's like a diversion to prolong justice for Mike Brown."