Michael Brown family files lawsuit, seeks at least $75,000 in Ferguson case

Story highlights

  • "The evidence has not changed, but the presentation of that evidence will," Anthony Gray says
  • In the civil case, a jury will make a decision based on a lower burden of proof
  • Word of the lawsuit comes six weeks after the Justice Department declines to charge Officer Darren Wilson

(CNN)The family of Michael Brown has filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Ferguson under Missouri's "wrongful death statute," family attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement Thursday.

The suit seeks punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, in addition to attorney fees.
    Brown's parents attended a news conference in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse after the suit was filed. His mother, Lesley McSpadden, who wore a red hoodie bearing her son's likeness, and his father, Mike Brown Sr., wearing a St. Louis Cardinals snapback and a hoodie that said, "Mike Brown chosen for change," did not speak, allowing attorneys Anthony Gray and Crump to address reporters.
    In addition to the city, the suit also names Officer Darren Wilson, whose fatal shooting of Brown has been ruled justified, and former police Chief Thomas Jackson, who resigned last month.
    Wilson "unjustifiably shot and killed (Brown), using an unnecessary and unreasonable amount (of) force in violation of (Brown's) constitutionally guaranteed right to life," the lawsuit states.
    The suit further accuses Wilson of "destroying evidence and interfering with the investigation" -- and a former supervisor, his fiancee, of turning a blind eye -- by washing blood off his hands and bagging the gun he used to shoot Brown.
    Jackson is included because he "maintained general supervision" of Wilson and "was also responsible for his hiring, training and retention," the lawsuit states.
    Ferguson city spokesman Jeff Small declined to comment on the lawsuit beyond saying it had been received, but not yet read in full.

    Investigation findings disputed

    Many of the allegations in the suit dispute the findings of the shooting investigation. Namely, the suit omits the claim that Brown and Wilson struggled over Wilson's gun, and it states as fact the now disputed claim that Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was killed.
    Gray said he does not believe in the local or federal investigations that cleared Wilson, and he took aim at the prosecutor who presented the case to a grand jury, saying that his presentation of evidence was "critical" to Wilson's exoneration.
    "The evidence has not changed, but the presentation of that evidence will," Gray said of the civil lawsuit.
    Wilson was never cross-examined, and his story changed many times -- "It's been refined; it's been perfected," Gray alleged -- but the attorney directed reporters to a section of the grand jury testimony -- volume 5, page 72 -- that Gray claimed indicated Wilson himself told the grand jury that Brown had his hands up.
    In fact, that section of the testimony came from a sergeant who testified that Wilson told him after the shooting that Brown charged him with his hands up.
    Crump told reporters that the alleged subterfuge with which investigators handled the Wilson probe is indicative of a national trend. He cited the cases of Eric Garner, Floyd Dent, Tamir Rice and Antonio Zambrano-Montes.
    "The standard police narrative is contradicted by the evidence," the attorney said.
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    Gray promised the lawsuit in early March after grand jury and Justice Department decisions not to charge Wilson in the shooting.
    "They have accepted (Wilson's) self-defense," attorney Daryl Parks told reporters at the time. "We do not accept his self-defense."
    Word of the lawsuit comes more than six weeks after the Justice Department determined there was not sufficient evidence to charge Wilson in Brown's death but found in a separate investigation that the Ferguson Police Department showed a pattern of racial bias.

    'It is our hope that ... true change will come'

    The slain teen's parents released a statement in March saying they were disappointed that Wilson would not face charges, but, they added, the federal report on the Police Department could provide a silver lining.
    "We are encouraged that the DOJ will hold the Ferguson Police Department accountable for the pattern of racial bias and profiling they found in their handling of interactions with people of color," the statement said. "It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country. If that change happens, our son's death will not have been in vain."
    In November, a grand jury cleared Wilson and, in an uncharacteristic move in grand jury proceedings, the prosecutor released all the evidence that was considered.
    The jury in the civil lawsuit will be asked to make a determination based on a lower burden of proof -- by a preponderance of evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.
    "There were other alternatives available to (Wilson)," Gray said in summing up the Brown family's case. "He did not have to kill Michael Brown."