FERGUSON, Mo. — Dorian Johnson had just moved from his mother’s house in St. Louis to a two-bedroom spot in the Canfield Green Apartments that he was sharing with his then-pregnant girlfriend and another roommate.

Sometime in March, a buddy stopped by with a stranger.

“Wow,” Johnson said, “that’s a big dude.”

The dude, Michael Brown, was 6-foot-4, and he had brushed past Johnson with barely a hello as he headed to the video game console and began to play.

“I asked, ‘Why he don’t speak?’ ” Johnson recalled in a 90-minute interview with The Washington Post last week – his first interview since federal authorities questioned him shortly after the police shot Brown, his attorneys said.

“He don’t like to talk to people,” the buddy said.

“He’s in my house, he’s going to talk to me,” Johnson replied – then he engaged Brown. Johnson soon had the answer to his own question.

“His voice didn’t fit his body. He might as well have been my size,” said Johnson, who is a lean 5-foot-7.

“Everybody we came around felt a little intimidated by him,” he said. “When he opened up his mouth … you’d say, ‘Naw, this guy wouldn’t hurt anybody.’ When he talked, you heard the kid in his voice.”

Five months later, Brown, unarmed, lay dying in the street, shot multiple times by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Johnson, who hid behind a nearby car during the Aug. 9 shooting, is in federal protective custody out of fear for his life, his attorneys said.

Johnson described his friendship with Brown as more casual than close. The two young men were both in transitional moments: One a 22-year-old father newly determined to provide for his daughter, the other a recent high school graduate preparing for trade school and chasing dreams about a music career.

By the time they met, Johnson was trying to move beyond a series of challenges, including difficult encounters with police.

Now he is one of two key witnesses to an event that again has forced the country to confront the tattered relationship between law enforcement and black Americans.

On the morning of the fatal encounter, it was Brown who reached out to Johnson, looking for someone to talk to about starting school and other anxieties, according to two people who have spoken with Johnson.

“He just wanted someone to talk to,” said Damonte Johnson, one of Dorian Johnson’s younger brothers. “So my brother said, ‘I’m headed to the store. Come and walk and talk with me.’ ”

Federal investigators have interviewed Dorian Johnson about that day. But his attorneys did not allow him to discuss the shooting or what happened on that trip to Ferguson Market, or during the fatal encounter with Wilson in the minutes after they left.

Johnson and police have differing accounts. In an earlier interview with The Post, Johnson’s attorney, Freeman Bosley Jr., described his client’s account: Johnson said Wilson was the aggressor, ordering the two to get out of the street and confronting them again when they said they were near Johnson’s apartment. Johnson said Wilson, still in his cruiser, grabbed Brown by the neck and, as Brown tried to pull away, threatened to shoot. Then he fired. Brown fled as Wilson shot multiple times, including, Johnson said, appearing to strike Brown in the back before he turned to surrender and was shot again.

St. Louis County police, who are investigating the case, said Brown struggled with Wilson for his gun and assaulted him. The case is before a grand jury and the Justice Department probe is also underway. Wilson, 28, also is in protective custody.

Before the shooting, a friendship had formed between two young men who could not have been more different.

Johnson is outgoing, a jokester who worked for a contractor with the local transit system and liked spending time on the neighborhood basketball courts. Brown, Johnson and others have said, was more reserved, a young man who had few friends but who found that his musical interests could help him connect with others.

They shared a passion for dressing, often complementing each other on the coordination of their sneakers and clothes. Big Mike, as he was called, was known to change his shoelaces daily to match his outfit.

The time he and Johnson spent together included activities common for some their age: They played video games late into the night, occasionally smoked weed, made music and talked about better lives.

It was music that bonded Brown and Johnson. Both fantasized about careers. The odds of making it in the rap game are long, but some work harder than others for the chance.

Brown appeared to be one of those guys who was putting in the time, even if the skills didn’t quite match his aspirations.

“A lot of my students claim to be rappers. Mike actually wrote songs,” said Douglas Carr, one of Brown’s English teachers at Normandy High School.

Brown had been rapping for a few months, Johnson said, but his real talent was helping others polish their work, often offering them advice about beats. “He could find beats,” Johnson said. “He was good at telling people their sound could be better if they’d do something, make a tweak.”

Johnson said he has not slept much since Aug. 9. “I jump out of my bed and check the windows,” he said. “I’m always at the door.”


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