Witness Names in Brown Shooting to Be Released

     ST. LOUIS (CN) — A federal judge has ordered the release of witness names and some evidence in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, but only to parties involved in the Brown family’s wrongful death lawsuit.
     U.S. District Judge E. Richard Webber announced after a hearing Wednesday that he would order the limited release of the names and under a protective order, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. His ruling also included witness interviews and statements made to police and the FBI, statements read to grand jurors and autopsy photographs.
     Webber said that disclosure was necessary to prevent a “gross injustice.”
     Attorneys for the federal government, St. Louis County police and prosecutors fought to keep the information sealed. They feared for the safety of witnesses, their families and investigators.
     Attorneys pointed towards the rioting that followed a St. Louis County grand jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Brown, as reasons for their concern.
     Government lawyers claimed various legal exemptions and argued that no protective order would keep the names secret, according to the Post-Dispatch.
     Attorneys on both sides of the case claimed the lawsuit could not advance with so much information being kept secret.
     Webber said he spent 150 hours reading all of the witnesses’ testimony. Almost all gave two interviews, with many accounts evolving with news coverage.
     Webber found that access to timely recollections would better serve the civil case.
     Though well aware of the safety concerns, Webber said they do not rise to the level of the “clear and present danger” necessary to block release of the information. He gave lawyers 10 days to develop an order that would keep the information secret.
     The case does not affect the secrecy of the names of the grand jurors themselves, according to the Post-Dispatch.
     Justice Department lawyers declined to comment to the Post-Dispatch on whether they would appeal Webber’s ruling.
     Both state and federal investigations failed to find cause to indict Wilson, who shot Brown during an August 2014 altercation in Ferguson, Mo. The shooting sparked months of often violent protests and brought the topics of racism and excessive police force into the national conversation.
     Wilson has since left the Ferguson police department.
     Brown’s family filed the wrongful death lawsuit April 23, 2015. The family claims the shooting could have been prevented. Ferguson, Wilson and former Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson are named as defendants.

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