St Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch decried a new documentary that includes previously unreleased video evidence related to the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, calling the 90-minute film "poorly-edited" and "pathetic".
The documentary, Stranger Fruit, a copy of which was provided to the Washington Post, premiered this weekend at the annual SXSW conference and alleges that McCulloch and others suppressed and cherry-picked evidence to boost the account of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown, 18, on August 9, 2014, prompting nationwide protests.
"If Michael was a rich white kid, with those bullets in his body in the places they were, Darren Wilson would have been in jail three years ago," film-maker Jason Pollack said in an interview today. "He should be in jail for involuntary manslaughter at the least."
A week after the shooting, Ferguson police released video of an altercation between Brown and the owner of Ferguson Market and Liquor, which shows Brown grabbing and pushing the store owner after grabbing several packs of Swisher Sweet cigarillos from the counter.
Minutes later, Wilson encountered Brown.
The two men tussled through the window of Wilson's police vehicle, according to police and witness accounts, and at some point Wilson drew and fired his weapon at Brown - striking the teen's hand.
Brown then fled more than 30m, according to documents released by the prosecutor, before being shot six additional times by Wilson. Wilson claimed that Brown had turned and charged him, while some witnesses and supporters of Brown said that he was attempting to surrender when he was killed.
A grand jury, convened by McCulloch, declined to prosecute Wilson.
In the years since the shooting, law enforcement officials have cited the robbery as part of the justification of Wilson's actions, arguing that the officer knew that Brown fit the description of the robbery suspect.
The new film, however, argues that the liquor store video does not depict a robbery, rather theorises that Brown was returning to the store to pick up cigarillos that he had previously left there after exchanging them for marijuana. To support this theory, the documentary shows previously unreleased footage from the liquor store.
The new footage, first reported by the New York Times, appears to show Brown entering Ferguson Market & Liquor just after 1 am local time on August 9, walking around the store and handing something to the clerks behind the counter. The clerks then appear to hand Brown a plastic bag.
Pollock says the previously unreleased video of Brown's early morning trip to the liquor store hints at a new narrative: that Brown had given a small amount of weed to the store's overnight workers in exchange for packs of cigarillos.
Pollock says the video shows Brown leaving some of the cigars behind the counter to be picked up later - suggesting that Brown was not robbing the liquor store in the moments before he was killed, rather was coming back to pick up the cigarillos he had left there.
The film-maker theorises that police released only the later video - showing Brown returning to the store, and becoming angry and violent when the cigarillos he had left there were not returned to him - to build the case that Brown was unpredictably violent and support Wilson's account that Brown turned and charged him.
"The liquor store video is, and has always been, a distraction," Pollock said.
In the hours after the film was released, St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, who oversaw the investigation into the shooting, told the St Louis Post-Dispatch that he had not been previously aware of Brown's earlier visit to the liquor store. Former Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson told the Post-Dispatch that he had not previously seen the video.
But McCulloch insisted today that the newly released video is not new evidence - noting that it was briefly mentioned in documents his office released in November 2014 - and said that his office will now release full video of the 1.13 am interaction showing that Brown did not successfully barter with the store clerks.
"This is not new information, it's certainly not a surprise to anyone," McCulloch said. "It's certainly not relevant or material to anything that occurred later that day at the store."
McCulloch said that the video was not initially released because its content is "immaterial" and "irrelevant" to the shooting of Brown.
"It's very clear that there was no transaction between Mr Brown and the store employees," McCulloch said. "The suggestion that he's coming back to pick up what he bartered for is just stupid. . . . what this guy is putting out is just nonsense."
Ferguson Market lawyers says video released yesterday was "doctored" will release full video on Monday pic.twitter.com/HzOFZWH2AJ— David Carson (@PDPJ) March 13, 2017
Lawyer Jay Kanzler, who represents the Ferguson Market and Liquor store, told CNN that the liquor store employees were not involved in a barter with Brown.
"My clients did nothing wrong," Kanzler told the cable news network. "They love the people of Ferguson and truly want to get on with their lives."
A lawyer for the owner of Ferguson Market and Liquor did not immediately return a request for comment. The St Louis County Police Department referred inquires to the Ferguson Police Department.
"Our department did not release the robbery footage video," a spokesman for the St Louis County Police Department said. "Ferguson PD released the video of Michael Brown committing a strong armed robbery."
The Ferguson Police Department could not immediately be reached for comment.