A piece published this week by The Smoking Gun has revealed the identity of “Witness 40,” in the #Ferguson case. Sandra McElroy is the Ferguson, Missouri woman described as Officer Darren Wilson‘s “key witness,” who is now suspected of providing false testimony to the grand jury. McElroy’s testimony – an account that TSG has described as “baked into the narrative of the Ferguson grand jury” – asserts that unarmed St. Louis teen Michael Brown charged Wilson “like a football player…with his head down” shortly before being killed. TSG‘s research, however, suggests that McElroy – a woman with a history of dishonesty, racial bias and possibly mental illness – might not even have been in Ferguson on the day Brown died and that her testimony was likely considered dubious by police and prosecutors, who felt it necessary to question the logistics of her story and the racially charged comments she was responsible for posting online in relation to the case. TSG describes the background information and grand jury proceedings that ultimately led McElroy’s testimony to be discredited, which is worth reposting at length here:
Sandra McElroy did not provide police with a contemporaneous account of the Brown-Wilson confrontation, which she claimed to have watched unfold in front of her as she stood on a nearby sidewalk smoking a cigarette.
Instead, McElroy waited four weeks after the shooting to contact cops. By the time she gave St. Louis police a statement on September 11, a general outline of Wilson’s version of the shooting had already appeared in the press. McElroy’s account of the confrontation dovetailed with Wilson’s reported recollection of the incident.
In the weeks after Brown’s shooting–but before she contacted police–McElroy used her Facebook account to comment on the case. On August 15, she “liked’ a Facebook comment reporting that Johnson had admitted that he and Brown stole cigars before the confrontation with Wilson. On August 17, a Facebook commenter wrote that Johnson and others should be arrested for inciting riots and giving false statements to police in connection with their claims that Brown had his hands up when shot by Wilson. “The report and autopsy are in so YES they were false,” McElroy wrote of the “hands-up” claims. This appears to be an odd comment from someone who claims to have been present during the shooting. In response to the posting of a news report about a rally in support of Wilson, McElroy wrote on August 17, “Prayers, support God Bless Officer Wilson.”
After meeting with St. Louis police, McElroy continued monitoring the case and posting online. Commenting on a September 12 Riverfront Times story reporting that Ferguson city officials had yet to meet with Brown’s family, McElroy wrote, “But haven’t you heard the news, There great great great grandpa may or may not have been owned by one of our great great great grandpas 200 yrs ago. (Sarcasm).” On September 13, McElroy went on a pro-Wilson Facebook page and posted a graphic that included a photo of Brown lying dead in the street. A type overlay read, “Michael Brown already received justice. So please, stop asking for it.” The following week McElroy responded to a Facebook post about the criminal record of Wilson’s late mother. “As a teenager Mike Brown strong armed a store used drugs hit a police officer and received Justis,” she stated.
On October 22, McElroy went to the FBI field office in St. Louis and was interviewed by an agent and two Department of Justice prosecutors. The day before that taped meeting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a lengthy story detailing exactly what Wilson told police investigators about the Ferguson shooting.
McElroy provided the federal investigators with an account that neatly tracked with Wilson’s version of the fatal confrontation. She claimed to have seen Brown and Johnson walking in the street before Wilson encountered them while seated in his patrol car. She said that the duo shoved the cruiser’s door closed as Wilson sought to exit the vehicle, then watched as Brown leaned into the car and began raining punches on the cop. McElroy claimed that she heard gunfire from inside the car, which prompted Brown and Johnson to speed off. As Brown ran, McElroy said, he pulled up his sagging pants, from which “his rear end was hanging out.”
But instead of continuing to flee, Brown stopped and turned around to face Wilson, McElroy said. The unarmed teenager, she recalled, gave Wilson a “What are you going to do about it look,” and then “bent down in a football position…and began to charge at the officer.” Brown, she added, “looked like he was on something.” As Brown rushed Wilson, McElroy said, the cop began firing. The “grunting” teenager, McElroy recalled, was hit with a volley of shots, the last of which drove Brown “face first” into the roadway.
McElroy’s tale was met with skepticism by the investigators, who reminded her that it was a crime to lie to federal agents. When questioned about inconsistencies in her story, McElroy was resolute about her vivid, blow-by-blow description of the deadly Brown-Wilson confrontation. “I know what I seen,” she said. “I know you don’t believe me.”
When asked what she was doing in Ferguson–which is about 30 miles north of her home–McElroy explained that she was planning to “pop in” on a former high school classmate she had not seen in 26 years. Saddled with an incorrect address and no cell phone, McElroy claimed that she pulled over to smoke a cigarette and seek directions from a black man standing under a tree. In short order, the violent confrontation between Brown and Wilson purportedly played out in front of McElroy.
Despite an abundance of red flags, state prosecutors put McElroy in front of the Ferguson grand jury the day after her meeting with the federal officials. After the 12-member panel listened to a tape of her interview conducted at the FBI office, McElroy appeared and, under oath, regaled the jurors with her eyewitness claims.
McElroy’s grand jury testimony came to an abrupt end at 2:30 that afternoon due to obligations of some grand jurors. But before the panel broke for the day, McElroy revealed that, “On August 9th after this happened when I got home, I wrote everything down on a piece of paper, would that be easier if I brought that in?”
“Sure,” answered prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh.
“Because that’s how I make sure I don’t get things confused because then it will be word for word,” said McElroy, who did not bother to mention her journaling while speaking a day earlier with federal investigators.
McElroy would return to the Ferguson grand jury 11 days later, journal pages in hand and with a revamped story for the panel.
It remains unclear whether the use of McElroy as a witness was due to incompetence or if her story was not vetted precisely because prosecutors were looking for testimony of this kind to get the decision they were looking for. Or to put the question more pointedly: what did prosecutor Bob McCulloch know and when did he know it?
This latest catastrophic error for the Ferguson grand jury follows assistant prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh‘s decision to present the jury with a 1979 copy of a law (Section 563.046) ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 198 –hence it had not been active for the entire length of her legal career–statting that it is legal to shoot fleeing suspects, simply because they are fleeing. The document suggested that Wilson had the legal right to shoot and kill Michael Brown as soon as he began to run away from the officer, subsequently lowering the standards Wilson would be held to by the jury. McElroy’s colorful past and questionable testimony only add to the public’s anger at the judgement handed down in favor of Wilson and the growing concern over the credibility of evidence presented, the subsequent validity of the decision and the rights of the victim’s survivors with respect to what seems to be, for all intents and purposes, the continuation of a gross miscarriage of justice.