U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder made no secret of his disgust with how officials in St. Louis are handling the Michael Brown killing, saying that it appears they are leaking information to the public to “shape public opinion.”
Stories in such publications as the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York Times used leaked information that allegedly came from the grand jury and the Brown autopsy to imply that witnesses and the evidence supported police officer Darren Wilson’s version of his shooting of the unarmed teen.
The Post story indicates that the St. Louis County autopsy report corroborates Wilson’s tale that Brown had reached for his gun by finding material “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm” in a wound on Brown’s thumb.
The Post story implied that several Black witnesses have told the grand jury versions of events that are consistent with Wilson’s account but they have never spoken out publicly out of fear for their safety.
At a news event in Los Angeles, Holder said he expects the Justice Department’s investigation into the shooting to be done by the time he leaves office. President Obama is expected to announce Holder’s replacement by the end of the year.
Holder said he was “exasperated” by the grand jury leaks.
“It appears that people are somehow trying to shape public opinion,” Holder said.
A Justice Department official told Vox.com that the attorney general feels the leaks are “inappropriate and troubling.”
As Vox.com pointed out, the leaks can also be misleading, such as the revelation in the Washington Post that the amount of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, found in Brown’s body at the time of his death could have triggered hallucinations. The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration has determined it’s hard to establish a relationship between the amount of THC in a person’s blood and how much the THC is actually affecting him,” Vox.com reported.
“The department considers the selective release of information in this investigation to be irresponsible and highly troubling,” Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson said in a statement. “Since the release of the convenience store footage there seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case.”
Of course this isn’t the first time that leaks out of St. Louis County have disturbed Justice Department officials. In August, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson angered Holder when he released video footage showing Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store before the shooting, though Jackson later acknowledged that Wilson stopped Brown for jaywalking, not the suspected burglary.
Many observers blamed the leaks on lawyers for officer Wilson, but they released a statement denying they were the source.
“We were not responsible for any leaks to any media including those published in the NY Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” Wilson’s legal counsel said in an emailed statement. “Further, we are not in possession of any of the disclosed reports or the investigative report. Finally, as long as the grand jury continues to meet and the Department of Justice continues to investigate, any commentary on this matter should only be done in the appropriate judicial venue and not through the media.”