The Ferguson police officer cleared of charges by a Missouri grand jury in the killing an unarmed black teenager says he’s confident a federal criminal probe into his actions will find “nothing” and clear him too.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Officer Darren Wilson insisted he carried no racial bias when he fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, and Wilson said he’s never been accused of acting in a racist manner during his entire law enforcement career.
“I did my job and followed my training,” Wilson said. “The training took over.”
The U.S. Justice Department is now conducting two probes sparked by Wilson's fatal confrontation with Brown on Aug. 9.
A criminal investigation will try to determine whether Wilson used unreasonable force and intentionally violated Brown’s civil rights when he shot the teenager. The second probe - though not criminal in nature – will look more broadly into whether the Ferguson police department has routinely engaged in a "pattern or practice" of unlawful and discriminatory policing.
Training will be one of several “priority areas" scrutinized by the federal probes, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.
In his interview this week with Stephanopoulos, Wilson said he’s worried about being caught in the crosshairs of a federal criminal investigation, but is confident investigators will find “nothing” to suggest he broke the law.
“I stand by what I did,” he said. “I stand by my training, and just have to wait and see what they determine.”
Stephanopoulos asked Wilson: “You're confident that no charges will be brought?”
Wilson responded simply, “Yeah.”
During its criminal investigation into Wilson, the Justice Department will be analyzing his past record, but “racial animus” is not something federal prosecutors have to prove to bring charges, according to William Yeomans, a former top civil rights prosecutor who spent 26 years at the Justice Department.
Investigators would have to show Wilson shot Brown with the specific intent to violate Brown’s civil rights and “use more force than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances,” Yeomans said. Reaching that threshold “can be very difficult” when there are conflicting eyewitness accounts and few pieces of physical evidence, according to Yeomans.
“It's difficult to prove what was going on in his head,” Yeomans said.
In his interview this week, Wilson acknowledged that – while the Ferguson community is predominantly black – the police force there is overwhelmingly white. But he said that didn’t create any inherent mistrust or tension between him and those he encountered while on patrol.
Testifying before a St. Louis County grand jury two months ago, however, he described his beat in Ferguson as “an antipolice area for sure.”
“That community doesn’t like the police,” he testified.
Holder echoed that sentiment Tuesday, saying, “Michael Brown's tragic death has revealed a deep distrust between some in the Ferguson community and its police force.”
Holder said the Justice Department will conduct an “intensive review” of the “priority areas" identified by the broader probe into the entire Ferguson police department, including a look at how officers handled searches and traffic stops of black drivers.
According to data released by the Missouri state government, about 67 percent of the Ferguson population is black, but last year 86 percent of those stopped by police were black, and 92 percent of those searched were black.
In addition, according to the same data, Ferguson police were twice as likely to search a black individual than a white individual, but they were significantly less likely to actually find contraband on black individuals compared with when they searched white individuals.
“There are obvious ways the police department needs to be reformed,” Yeomans said, speaking of public information about the Ferguson police. “And I am confident that once this process is concluded, it will be a significantly different police department.”
Holder vowed that the two federal probes will be “conducted rigorously and in a timely manner” so that federal authorities can begin “to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members.”