Brown family files civil lawsuit against Ferguson, Wilson and Chief Jackson

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FERGUSON, MO - The family of Michael Brown has filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Ferguson under Missouri's "wrongful death statute," family attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement Thursday.

Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. held a news conference outside the St. Louis County Courthouse.

“It’s not Michael Brown’s parents filing this lawsuit. It is the forensic evidence," Crump said.

The suit seeks $75,000 in damages and attorney fees.

In addition to the city, the suit also names Officer Darren Wilson, whose fatal shooting of Brown has been ruled justified, and former Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who resigned last month.

Wilson "unjustifiably shot and killed (Brown), using an unnecessary and unreasonable amount (of) force in violation of (Brown's) constitutionally guaranteed right to life," the lawsuit states.

“We are here today to simply present our case,” said Anthony Gray, another attorney working for McSpadden and Brown.

The suit further accuses Wilson of "destroying evidence and interfering with the investigation" -- and a former supervisor, his fiancee, of turning a blind eye -- by washing blood off his hands and bagging the gun he used to shoot Brown. They allege the ‘Hands Up Don’t Shoot’ anthem was also started by Darren Wilson. "Wilson’s own testimony is that Michael Brown Jr. had his arms up," said Gray.

They also believe the standard police narrative was contradicted by the objective evidence.

Jackson is included because he "maintained general supervision" of Wilson and "was also responsible for his hiring, training and retention," the lawsuit states.

Attorney Gray expressed the main person they focused on for this lawsuit was Darren Wilson and his narrative. Lawyers expect to put on evidence that was never heard before concerning the August 9 shooting.

"There was no physical struggle over the weapon at the time Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed. It’s a lie. It never happened. The physical evidence doesn’t back it up,” Gray said.

Attorney Crump doesn’t believe the City of Ferguson ever looked to hold Darren Wilson accountable for the death of Michael Brown.

“When is America going to challenge the standard police narrative when they kill unarmed people of color?" he said.

Attorneys Anthony Gray and Daryl Parks promised the lawsuit in early March after grand jury and Justice Department decisions not to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting.

"They have accepted (Wilson's) self-defense," Parks told reporters at the time. "We do not accept his self-defense."

Word of the lawsuit comes more than six weeks after the Justice Department determined there was not sufficient evidence to charge Wilson in Brown's death but found in a separate investigation that the Ferguson Police Department showed a pattern of racial bias.

The Brown family's lawyers look forward to cross-examine Wilson. They said he has never been grilled while under oath.

“When you allow a person not to be cross-examined they get the story, the narrative, the way they want it,” Crump said.

The attorneys said the City of Ferguson and former police chief are being sued because they fostered a racist atmosphere in the town.

“They cultivated the mindset, fostered the environment that made the gunning down Michael Brown Jr. effortless for Officer Darren Wilson,” Gray said.

The slain teen's parents, Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, released a statement in March saying they were disappointed that Wilson would not face charges, but added the federal report on the police department could provide a silver lining.

"We are encouraged that the DOJ will hold the Ferguson Police Department accountable for the pattern of racial bias and profiling they found in their handling of interactions with people of color," the statement said. "It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country. If that change happens, our son's death will not have been in vain."

In November, a grand jury cleared Wilson and, in an uncharacteristic move in grand jury proceedings, the prosecutor released all the evidence that was considered.

Gray said the civil lawsuit will rely on "pretty much the same evidence," but it will be cast differently. The jury in the civil lawsuit will be asked to make a determination based on a lower burden of proof -- by a preponderance of evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, Parks said.

The attorneys said the City of Ferguson and former police chief are being sued because they fostered a racist atmosphere in the town.

"There were other alternatives available to (Wilson)," he said in summing up the Brown family's case. "We do not believe—based on the forensic evidence and the narrative given—that Michael Brown should have been killed.”

So if the parents win, how much money could they stand to receive? SLU law professor Marcia McCormick said awards in cases like this are generally in the range of $1 million to $2 million. But if history is any indication, McCormick said Michael Brown’s parents will have a tough time winning.

“At first blush, this is a very well done complaint, but these cases are very hard to win,” she said. “I would not be surprised if the defendants win.”

Ed Payne of CNN contributed to this report.


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