Filmmaker Says This New Video Of Mike Brown Challenges Ferguson Police Narrative

“We had to do this so that people understand what really happened,” said the documentary filmmaker who obtained the video.

A documentary filmmaker has obtained previously unreleased surveillance footage that he said disproves the police narrative of the events that led to the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot to death by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in 2014.

Film director Jason Pollock debuted “Stranger Fruit,” a documentary that examines Brown’s story from his family’s perspective, at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin on Saturday. The film includes footage that Pollock said was suppressed by police ― a move that consequently fueled the characterization of Brown as a “thug.”

Michael Brown Sr. walks past the memorial set up where his son Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 22, 2014.
Michael Brown Sr. walks past the memorial set up where his son Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 22, 2014.
Jim Young / Reuters

Pollock’s video shows Brown trade what he says is marijuana for cigarillos with clerks at the Ferguson Market convenience store in the early morning hours before he was killed.

The video Pollock obtained, which was edited for the documentary, challenges the narrative police had long maintained: That Brown committed a strong-arm robbery of the store before the shooting and as a result, Ferguson officer Darren Wilson encountered Brown believing he was the robbery suspect.

The video specifically shows Brown giving the clerks a small bag, which they smell and inspect. Then, a clerk bags cigarillos and other items for Brown, but instead of leaving the store with the bag, Brown is seen handing the bag back to the clerk, who places it under the counter.

The widely-seen second video, of the moments before the shooting, is Brown returning to collect his items, Pollock said.

Lesley McSpadden, Brown’s mother, said in the film the allegations of a strong-arm robbery at the store were a “misunderstanding.”

“These people know each other well enough that this is the kind of relationship they have,” she says.

St. Louis County Police, which investigated the incident between Wilson and Brown, said via email Sunday they have not authenticated the video on their own.

In the film, Pollock said he saw a passing reference to early-morning video while browsing through SLCPD’s account of the investigation and questioned why it was not released. Ferguson police only released video from right before the shooting.

Jay Kanzler, a St. Louis attorney representing the convenience store and its employees, disputed the documentary’s version of events and suggested the video Pollock obtained only further implicates Brown rather than absolves him.

“It’s just nonsense. It’s patently false, it didn’t happen that way,” Kanzler said of the video Sunday on MSNBC. “The clerks don’t smoke marijuana. They didn’t take the marijuana…maybe Michael Brown thought they would trade him cigarillos, but they didn’t.”

Kanzler clarified that he didn’t know what was in the baggie that the clerks took from Brown, but said the only reason he returned the bag to the clerks was because he hadn’t paid for items.

Pollock’s video is “neither new nor news,” Kanzler added. He suggested the video was not publicly released because it was “irrelevant” and that people sympathetic to Brown would have accused the police of “piling on” with unfavorable evidence had they shared it.

Brown’s relatives maintain that the Ferguson Market convenience store had a history of being involved with local drug deals.

Brown’s death quickly became one of the most socially and politically polarizing incidents of the past few years and sparked intense public debate about racism, police brutality and protesting.

A grand jury ultimately declined to indict Wilson, who resigned shortly after. The following year, a Justice Department investigation concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Wilson with a civil rights violation.

Brown’s family is still pursuing a civil suit for wrongful death.

“We had to do this so that people understand what really happened,” Pollock said Sunday while talking to reporters at SXSW. “Because people think all these ridiculous things about him ― that he was a thug. And he was not a thug, he just graduated from high school in a place were there was only 62 percent graduation rate. That means he was a rock star, and he beat all the odds, and he was murdered eight days after his graduation.”

“We want people to understand what happened, and they’re going to.”

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