Radio transmissions reveal telling details of police response to Michael Brown shooting

    A young girl muses over the memorial to Michael Brown in the Canfield neighborhood of St. Louis.

A young girl muses over the memorial to Michael Brown in the Canfield neighborhood of St. Louis.

Records released by the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office reveal telling details about the evidence the grand jury used in its decision to not prosecute the police officer who shot to death an unarmed teenager who he claimed was charging him like “a demon.”

Among the items released by prosecutor Robert McCulloch in the aftermath of the controversial decision are transcripts of the police radio transmissions from the day Officer Darren Wilson shot to death 18-year-old Michael Brown. The transcript could provide insight into how the police responded to the scene and the actions they took soon after Brown was shot seven times in the face, chest and arm.

The radio discussions were widely reported when first released earlier this month, however a close examination shows that police did not call for emergency medical response after the shooting, nor did they discuss that shots had been fired and that a person could be fatally injured. Twenty-four pages of transmissions were released, and it’s unclear if this information is in undisclosed transcripts. However, other information in the discussions implies that the shooting took place within the scope of the released transmissions.

The transcript begins with numerous officers being dispatched to a call involving a man who threatened to get a gun and shoot a woman who lived near him. As the officers look for this person, two other calls come in — one for a car with multiple parking tickets and another for a baby having difficulty breathing. Two officers, including Wilson, pull away from searching for the threatening male and go to the parking ticket and baby calls.

While responding to this, the dispatcher informs officers of a shoplifting in progress. The address of the location where this alleged shoplifting is included in the transcript, whereas all other addresses are redacted. The address is 9101 West Florrisant Ave., which, according to Google Maps, is the location of Ferguson Market & Liquor (not the Quick Trip down the street, which has been widely reported).

Suddenly, virtually all radio discussion turns to the shoplifting incident involving the theft of “a whole box of Swisher cigars,” which retail for roughly $5. It’s unclear if anyone responds to the suffocating two-month-old baby, or if anyone continues looking for the man who threatened to get a gun and kill his neighbor.

While some transmissions are declared unintelligible by the transcriber, in most instances no clarification was attempted by the dispatcher or others to discern what those communications referenced.

Soon after Michael Brown, the alleged shoplifter, “disappeared into the woodwork,” the dispatcher informs an officer that there is a message from another officer for him.

The dispatcher tells this officer, identified as “Frank 22” (the “F” of “Frank” is used by police to denote the shift or region an officer is assigned to), to call dispatch, which “has a message” from Officer 21. Officer 21, or Frank 21, is likely Darren Wilson, according to various reports that confirmed Wilson’s voice and what he said in the released audio recordings, which was cross-referenced with the actual transcriptions for this story. The Missouri Department of Public Safety has been asked to identify Officer 21 if he is Darren Wilson.

Officer 22 then asks if he should call dispatch, and dispatch affirms. It’s unclear what this conversation or the message was about.

Wilson then asks for backup. Soon other officers arrive, and eventually Officer 25 tells dispatch to send detectives to the scene if they are available. The dispatcher responds by saying that s/he can’t “get a hold of anyone from that particular agency and United Way cannot recommend anyone else.” It’s unclear what agency the dispatcher is referring to and it’s also unclear why the United Way was referenced, which appears in the context of the scene where Brown was shot.

Ashley Gammon, communication director at the United Way of Greater St. Louis, said she could not comment on the transmission without the complete context, but noted that her organization offers a variety of non-emergency support to area residents, such as food, housing, child care and counseling. Its 2-1-1 phone number is a way for residents to find these resources.

The public safety department has been asked for more information on the mention of the United Way in the police radio transmission.

Not long after the United Way reference, the dispatcher informs the officers that “EMS is en route.” However, no police transmissions indicate the need for emergency medical services. It’s unclear who called EMS and for what purpose (it could have been for the suffocating baby), and no mention of the discharge of a firearm and the actual shooting of a person can be found in the transcript, either.

The transcripts are replete with police codes that indicate various actions, but notably absent is any code for a fatal shooting, shots fired, or ambulance needed.

After EMS is sent, Officer 25 says “Get us several more units over here. There’s gonna be a problem.” Again, no mention of a shooting and no mention of the need for an ambulance. Additionally, no clear reference to the earlier call involving the threatening man or the suffocating baby can be found. A few references to the parking tickets can be found.

More police units begin to arrive from other precincts, and one officer radios: “We just need crowd control.” Again, no mention of a shooting or the need for an ambulance.

At one point, an officer identified as Victor 91 tells dispatch that s/he is switching to the “city channel,” and the dispatcher then clears the switch. It’s unclear if further transmissions related to Michael Brown’s death were discussed on the city channel. The police have been asked to provide clarification.

An exchange between two officers soon takes place in which one officer, possibly Frank 25, observes someone or something “laying in the roadway [unintelligible] on Canfield” Avenue. Another officer, possibly Frank 23, responds, saying: “Yeah, I see him. He’s just havin’ a… little bit hysterical.”

It’s unclear who this “hysterical” person is and if the object in the roadway is Michael Brown’s body.

In between discussing the parking tickets and handling the situation on Canfield Avenue, where it appears the shooting already happened, the dispatch puts out another call: “Shop n’ Save advised there’s a female in the restroom. She’s been in there for 45 minutes. They’d like her removed.”

There’s no mention of the possible health or welfare of this person, simply that the store wants this person “removed.”

The public safety department has been asked to clarify its procedures for radio transmissions in the event an officer fires his or her weapon and a person is severely wounded. It has also been asked to clarify its triage procedures for prioritizing emergency calls.

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