Jason Pollock (L), director of the documentary film "Stranger Fruit," becomes emotional as Michael Brown Sr., father of Mike Brown Jr who was killed in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, speaks during a panel discussion at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Film Interactive Festival 2017 in Austin, Texas, U.S., March 13, 2017. "Stranger Fruit" tells the story of Mike Brown Jr. REUTERS/Brian Snyder(reuters_tickers)
By Lawrence Bryant
FERGUSON, Mo. (Reuters) - Previously undisclosed video of Michael Brown, recorded hours before the unarmed black 18-year-old was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, has raised new questions about a suspected robbery that police said he committed in his final hours.
The footage unearthed by a documentary filmmaker shows the teenager visiting a convenience store the night before his 2014 killing, which prompted national protests and kindled a debate about how U.S. police treat minorities.
Shortly after Brown's death, local police released security-camera video of Brown visiting the same store in the daytime, a few minutes before he was shot. That footage, which now appears to depict the second of two visits to the Ferguson Market and Liquor store by Brown within a span of a few hours, showed Brown pushing a worker before walking out with cigarillos in an apparent robbery.
Brown's family and protesters had criticized the release of the video as an effort to demonize the teenager.
Witnesses have given conflicting accounts of Brown's encounter a short time later with police officer Darren Wilson. Local and federal investigations cleared Wilson of criminal wrongdoing.
The new video, which appears in the documentary "Stranger Fruit," shows Brown in an earlier, seemingly more amicable exchange.
It shows him giving store employees what appears to be a small bag, the contents of which the staff pass around and sniff. One employee gives Brown two boxes of cigarillos in a carrier bag.
Brown takes a few steps away before turning back and handing the bag back to an employee who appears to stash it behind the counter.
Jason Pollock, the documentary filmmaker, said the video showed Brown exchanging marijuana for cigarillos and undermined the police account that Brown may have robbed the store.
"He left his items at the store and he went back the next day to pick them up," Pollock says in the documentary. "Mike did not rob the store."
Robert McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, dismissed Pollock's account as "pathetic."
"There was no transaction. There was certainly an attempt to barter for these goods, but the store employees had no involvement at all in that," McCulloch told a news conference on Monday. The clerks did nothing wrong, he added, and were not safeguarding the cigarillos for Brown.
McCulloch said he would release unedited video from the store showing that the clerks replaced the items returned by Brown, which he said undermined the idea there had been any trade.
Jay Kanzler, a lawyer for the convenience store, also disputed the filmmaker's explanation.
"The reason he gave it back is he was walking out the door with unpaid merchandise and they wanted it back," Kanzler was quoted as saying by the New York Times. He did not respond to a request for comment.
About 100 protesters, who saw the video as exonerating Brown, gathered on Sunday night at the store, which was protected by a couple of hundred police officers.
The protest was largely peaceful, although police arrested at least two people, a Reuters witness said, and an unknown person fired about half a dozen bullets into the air toward the end of the demonstration.
(Reporting by Lawrence Bryant in Ferguson, Mo., Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)