A documentary that premiered at an Austin film festival over the weekend brings a new perspective to events that led to the shooting of Michael Brown, a Missouri teen whose death in 2014 brought national scrutiny to local police tactics.
The film “Stranger Fruit” counters the narrative that Brown committed strong arm robbery just before his death — details authorities revealed, as many believe, to discredit the 18-year-old’s character — by describing the exchange as part of an alleged drug deal between Brown and store employees the night before the shooting on Aug. 14, 2014.
Filmmaker Jason Pollock, as well as Brown’s mother, Lezley McSpadden, said the entire robbery claim was a misunderstanding.
The film contains newly released surveillance video showing Brown entering Ferguson Market and Liquor around 1 a.m. on the morning of the shooting. He walks to the cooler to grab a drink and then goes to the counter. But instead of paying with cash, he slides what appears to be a small bag of weed across the counter. The employees pick it up, pass it around and take turns smelling it.
The employees then hand Brown two large boxes of cigarillos, which are put into a bag with Brown’s other items. Brown starts to turn away and leave the store, but then for reasons which aren’t known, leaves the cigarillos behind. He hands the bag back to the employees, who tuck it away behind the counter.
The film describes Brown leaving the store but returning – presumably to retrieve the cigarillos and other items – about 10 hours later, approximately 10 minutes before he was shot.
Pollock said the video proves Brown never stole anything from the store. Still, Brown was caught on surveillance video assaulting the store owner, who claims he knew nothing about the marijuana exchange or any other prior arrangement.
“There was no transaction,” Jay Kanzler, an attorney representing the store, its owners and employees, told The New York Times. “There was no understanding. No agreement. Those folks didn’t sell him cigarillos for pot. The reason he gave it back is he was walking out the door with unpaid merchandise and they wanted it back.”
During the physical altercation between Brown and the store owner, a customer called 911 to report the incident. A few minutes later, Wilson, while on patrol, noticed Brown and a friend walking down the middle of the street. The two matched the description given by the store owner. Brown even clutched cigarillos in his hand, leading Wilson to believe he was the suspect in the robbery.
Wilson then stopped his patrol car to talk with the teens and a heated altercation immediately followed. The 45-second exchange between Wilson and Brown ended in teen’s death, which led to a fury of protests and riots across the country.
Wilson, who was cleared by the grand jury of any wrongdoing, maintained he only fired at Brown when he felt his life was in danger after Brown first assaulted him and tried to take his service pistol, claims which were also backed by physical evidence.
While Pollock scolded authorities for not previously sharing the video and details of the cigarillos and marijuana exchange, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the investigation focused on the shooting, not the theft.