FERGUSON, Mo. — Darren Wilson resigned from his job as a Ferguson police officer after learning of threats of violence against other officers and the department, his lawyer said Sunday.
Wilson, a 28-year-old white officer, had been on administrative leave since Aug. 9, when he shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed. A grand jury decision not to indict Wilson was announced Monday, setting off massive protests that included looting, violence and fires that destroyed about a dozen businesses.
Wilson’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, told The Associated Press that Wilson decided to step aside after Ferguson Chief Tom Jackson personally told him of the threats. Bruntrager declined to go into detail about the alleged threats, and Jackson, didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail and email seeking comment.
“The information we had was that there would be actions targeting the Ferguson (police) department or buildings in Ferguson related to the police department,” Bruntrager said. He said Wilson and the city were already discussing an exit strategy, acknowledging that staying on as an officer there would be impossible.
Once Wilson learned of the threats, Bruntrager said, he decided to go ahead and resign.
“Under the circumstances, nothing else was important other than safety,” Bruntrager said.
Wilson, who had been with the department for less than three years, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Saturday, “I’m not willing to let someone else get hurt because of me.”
Ferguson officials planned to address details of the resignation later Sunday, the same day Brown’s parents planned to attend a church service where civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton was scheduled to preach.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown’s family, said Wilson’s resignation was not a surprise.
“It was always believed that the police officer would do what was in his best interest, both personally and professionally,” Crump said. “We didn’t believe that he would be able to be effective for the Ferguson community nor the Ferguson Police Department because of the tragic circumstances that claimed the life of Michael Brown Jr.”
Crump said the family is still considering civil litigation such as a wrongful death lawsuit, “but don’t let that get confused with the fact that they really wanted the killer of their child to be held accountable.”
Wilson’s resignation meant little to activists and protesters.
On Saturday night, more than 100 protesters gathered near police headquarters, where they were outnumbered by officers. Two people were arrested. Another protester burned an American flag. By midnight, only about two dozen protesters remained.
Many seemed unfazed by the resignation. Several merely shrugged their shoulders when asked what they thought, while Rick Campbell flatly said he didn’t care about the resignation, noting: “I’ve been protesting out here since August.”
Victoria Rutherford, a resident who was not protesting, said she believed Wilson should have not only resigned, but been convicted of a crime.
“I’m upset. I have a 16-year-old son. It could’ve been him. I feel that he was absolutely in the wrong,” she said.
Another resident, Reed Voorhees, said he hoped Wilson could find similar work “someplace where he would enjoy life, and move on with his life.”
Wilson fatally shot Brown in the middle of a Ferguson street after the two scuffled inside Wilson’s police SUV. Brown’s body was left for more than four hours as police investigated and angry onlookers gathered.
Some witnesses have said Brown had his hands up when Wilson shot him. Wilson told the grand jury that he feared for his life when Brown hit him and reached for his gun.
The U.S. Justice Department also is conducting a civil rights investigation into the shooting and a separate investigation of police department practices. It isn’t clear when that decision will be announced.
It isn’t clear what the future holds for Wilson, who has spent his adult life in police work and never wanted to do anything else, Bruntrager said.
“In terms of what it (the resignation) means, it means at this point he doesn’t have a paycheck,” Bruntrager said. “He has no income so he’ll have to make some decisions pretty quickly.”