ST. LOUIS — For nearly a week, the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, has been a shadowy figure – nameless, faceless and seemingly shielded from the fury that has filled the streets of the town he was sworn to protect.
On Friday, the community finally learned his name – Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white officer who has spent the last six years patrolling the St. Louis suburbs, drawing praise from his boss.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson provided the name and said Wilson had not been the focus of any public complaints. He would not offer many details about Wilson’s life or career, but commended his police record and his demeanor.
“He was a gentle, quiet man,” Jackson said. “He was a distinguished officer. He is, has been, an excellent officer for the police department.”
Wilson has been on administrative leave since the shooting on Aug. 9.
Police said Wilson stopped 18-year-old Michael Brown and another young man because they were walking down the middle of the street. He ordered them on to the sidewalk.
Authorities say one of the men pushed Wilson into his squad car, then assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with him over the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired in the car before the struggle spilled onto the street, where Wilson shot Brown multiple times, according to police.
Wilson is “devastated” by last weekend’s events, the police chief said.
“He never intended for any of this to happen,” Jackson added.
The killing touched off day after day of violent protests, which were met by an aggressive police response that included officers in riot gear pointing assault rifles, firing rubber bullets and unleashing tear gas. On Thursday, the governor ordered Missouri State Police to take over security in Ferguson. Within hours, the tension in the streets began to ease.
Wilson spent the first two years of his career with the police department in nearby Jennings, Missouri, before moving on to Ferguson for the past four years. Ferguson’s police force is nearly all-white. The town’s population is about 70 percent black.
Jackson had originally planned to release the name earlier in the week but delayed the announcement, citing safety concerns and death threats against the officer.
St. Louis County police and the FBI are conducting separate investigations.
The St. Louis County prosecutor said it will probably be weeks before a decision is made on whether to charge Wilson with a crime.