WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI has completed its investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed, black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
The Justice Department has not yet announced whether it will file a federal civil rights charge against former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. But officials and experts have said such a prosecution would be highly unlikely, in part because of the extraordinarily high legal standard federal prosecutors would need to meet.
The official was not authorized to discuss the case by name and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson declined to comment.
Wilson, who is white, was cleared in November by a state grand jury in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown, a shooting that touched off protests in the streets and became part of a national conversation about race relations and police departments that patrol minority neighborhoods. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson in the days after the shooting to try to calm tensions and to meet with Brown’s relatives and federal law enforcement.
Wilson, who shot Brown after a scuffle in the middle of a street, told the St. Louis County grand jury that spent months reviewing the case that he feared for his life during the confrontation and that Brown struck him in the face and reached for his gun. Some witnesses have said Brown had his hands up when Wilson shot him.
To mount a federal prosecution, the Justice Department would need to show that Wilson willfully deprived Brown of his civil rights. That standard, which means prosecutors must prove that an officer knowingly used more force than the law allowed, is challenging for the government to meet. Multiple high-profile police-involved deaths, including the 1999 shooting in New York City of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant have not resulted in federal charges.
Wilson, who had been on administrative leave since the shooting, resigned days after the grand jury decision was announced. A lawyer for Wilson did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
A separate, broader Justice Department-led investigation into the practices of the Ferguson police department remains open. That investigation, which will examine potential discriminatory practices among officers, has the potential to have more sweeping consequences than any individual criminal prosecution, experts say. The Justice Department has initiated roughly 20 such investigations of police departments during Holder’s tenure.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Justice Department lawyers were preparing a memo recommending against prosecuting Wilson, and that Holder – who is expected to leave his position within weeks – had not yet made a decision. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson and Mayor James Knowles said Wednesday that they had no information about the status of the investigation.
Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Brown’s family, said in a statement that the family would not address speculation from anonymous officials and was waiting for an official Justice Department announcement.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, is conducting a separate federal civil rights investigation into the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City. In that case, too, a local grand jury declined to indict the officer. The U.S. attorney whose office is handling that investigation, Loretta Lynch, has been nominated to replace Holder and faces a Senate confirmation hearing next week.