FERGUSON, Mo. — Michael Brown was identified as a suspect in a strong-arm robbery of a box of cigars moments before he was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson, police said Friday.
In an afternoon press conference, Ferguson, Mo. Police Chief Thomas Jackson said Wilson did not initially make a connection between the robbery and Brown,whose death spurred violent protests and unrest in the St. Louis suburb over the past week.
Wilson stopped Brown and a friend because "they were in the middle of the street, blocking traffic," Jackson said.
Hours later, however, Jackson told a slightly different story to CNN and NBC, saying that Wilson noticed Brown was carrying a box of cigars that had been reported stolen. Wilson, he said, initially stopped Brown for blocking traffic, but as he began driving past Brown, he noticed Brown was holding cigars.
At that point, Wilson "made the connection" that Brown might have been involved in a theft that had just been broadcast on police radio, Jackson said.
Jackson earlier released Wilson's name along with information that Brown was a suspect in the previous robbery. He said he released surveillance video tape and documents related to the robbery to satisfy freedom of information requests from the public.
His decision to release both bits of information at the same time has come under fire by residents and Brown supporters who said the police were trying to divert attention away from Wilson and justify the shooting by blaming Brown.
Jackson would not say why he released the information when he did the way he did, other than to say he was responding to freedom of information requests from the public about the robbery.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown's family, told USA TODAY the release of the officer's name alongside a robbery report naming Brown as a suspect "smoke and mirrors."
"There was nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that would justify this execution style murder by this police officer in broad daylight," Crump said. "It's not enough that they assassinated him in broad daylight in the middle of the street. They also have to assassinate his character to try to get away with it."
He said police were trying to divert the public's attention from the crux of the issue. He added that police only releasing photos of the robbery suspect and not Wilson shows that the department will not be transparent.
He said Brown's family believes the police strategically waited to release the officer's name to justify the fatal shooting.
Residents were angry.
"So then why did they shoot him?" said Keith Miller, 58. "The way they're putting this out, no one trusts the Ferguson cops. Things are going to stay calm for now. But people aren't going to be patient on this. If they don't charge this cop, it's going to start right back up."
Jackson gave few details about Wilson, 28. He said Wilson has been a police officer for six years, four years in Ferguson and before that two years in nearby Jennings. Jackson said Wilson has had no disciplinary action against him.
"He's a a gentle quiet man," Jackson said in describing the officer. "He's a distinguished officer."
He said Wilson has been "devastated" by the shooting and its aftermath. "He never intended for any of this to happen," Jackson said.
STORY: The other Darren Wilson
Earlier in the day, Jackson had given barebones details about a strong-arm robbery at a local convenience store that took place moments before Wilson shot Brown, but he did not explain at the time that the shooting was not connected to the robbery.
Police documents he released to reporters identified Brown as the suspect.
A police offense incident report dated Aug. 9 that was part of the packet of documents Jackson released quotes the officer writing, "I was able to confirm that Brown is the primary suspect in this incident."
The report does not name the officer or contain an officer's signature. It also does not contain the address where the robbery is said to have happened.
But it provides the following description of the robbery: An employee at a Ferguson convenience store saw Brown grab a box of Swisher Sweet cigars and hand them to another young man identified as Dorian Johnson, who was standing behind him. The employee said he told Brown he had to pay for the cigars and instead, Brown reached across the counter and grabbed numerous packets of cigars and turned to leave the store.
The report says according to the employee Brown grabbed his shirt and pushed him into a display rack. Then he and Johnson left the store without paying. Jackson said Johnson would not be charged with a crime.
The report describes Brown as 6'4, 292 pounds and wearing a white T-shirt, khaki long shorts, yellow socks and a red Cardinals baseball cap.
During a press conference in the afternoon, Jackson said he had to release the video tape because of several freedom of information requests.
Brown was unarmed when Wilson killed him. Witnesses in the area say Brown had raised his hands to surrender when he was shot. Police have not confirmed that information.
No one answered at Wilson's door in his home in suburban Crestwood, Mo. A police officer keeping an eye on the house said Wilson and his family left days ago.
A neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said that Wilson had moved into the neighborhood less than a year ago. She described him as " tall and slim" and that she would see him walking his dog in the neighborhood of mostly single-story brick homes. She said she didn't know he was the cop until this morning when Crestwood police informed residents that he was involved and the neighborhood would be getting attention.
Another neighbor, Ron Gorski, said he hopes Wilson gets a fair break.
"He's a young guy," Gorski said of Wilson. "Things happen and it's a complicated situation. I feel for the family and the entire country."
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon were not notified or consulted before Darren Wilson's name was released along with information that Brown was a suspect in a robbery.
"I would have liked to have been consulted," Johnson said at a press conference Friday.
He added that he hoped to talk to Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson about the manner in which the information was released.
Nixon, meanwhile, said that police are still focused on learning details about Brown's death and that nothing should deter them from that goal.
"I think the focal point here remains to figure out how and why Michael Brown was killed and to get justice," he said.
The announcement comes after Twitter suspended an account Thursday linked to a loose-knit "hacktivist" group that released the name of a police officer it said shot and killed Brown on Saturday night. However, police, Ferguson's mayor and the stepmother of the man named all said the group was incorrect and that the person named is not a police officer.
As of early Friday morning, no violent clashes were reported after hundreds of protesters gathered and marched near the flashpoint where riots and civil unrest have unfolded here in recent days.
Bello reporting from McLean, Va. Contributing: KSDK-TV (St. Louis)