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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Key Ferguson witness fabricated entire testimony

Demonstrators are confronted by police as they block a street during a protest ahead of the grand jury announcement on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Demonstrators are confronted by police as they block a street during a protest ahead of the grand jury announcement on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)


By William Bastone, Andrew Goldberg, Joseph Jesselli, The Smoking Gun
18 December 14

he grand jury witness who testified that she saw Michael Brown pummel a cop before charging at him “like a football player, head down,” is a troubled, bipolar Missouri woman with a criminal past who has a history of making racist remarks and once insinuated herself into another high-profile St. Louis criminal case with claims that police eventually dismissed as a “complete fabrication,” The Smoking Gun has learned.

In interviews with police, FBI agents, and federal and state prosecutors--as well as during two separate appearances before the grand jury that ultimately declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson--the purported eyewitness delivered a preposterous and perjurious account of the fatal encounter in Ferguson.

Referred to only as “Witness 40” in grand jury material, the woman concocted a story that is now baked into the narrative of the Ferguson grand jury, a panel before which she had no business appearing.

While the “hands-up” account of Dorian Johnson is often cited by those who demanded Wilson’s indictment, “Witness 40”’s testimony about seeing Brown batter Wilson and then rush the cop like a defensive end has repeatedly been pointed to by Wilson supporters as directly corroborative of the officer’s version of the August 9 confrontation. The “Witness 40” testimony, as Fox News sees it, is proof that the 18-year-old Brown’s killing was justified, and that the Ferguson grand jury got it right.

However, unlike Johnson, “Witness 40”--a 45-year-old St. Louis resident named Sandra McElroy--was nowhere near Canfield Drive on the Saturday afternoon Brown was shot to death.

Though prosecutors have sought to cloak the identity of grand jury witnesses, a TSG investigation has identified McElroy as “Witness 40.” A careful analysis of information contained in the unredacted portions of “Witness 40”’s grand jury testimony helped reporters identify McElroy and then conclusively match up details of her life with those of “Witness 40.”

TSG examined criminal, civil, matrimonial, and bankruptcy court records, as well as online postings and comments to unmask McElroy as “Witness 40,” the fabulist whose grand jury testimony and law enforcement interviews are deserving of multi-count perjury indictments.

McElroy did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment about her testimony. Messages sent yesterday to her three Facebook pages also went unanswered. Also, a message left on a phone number linked to McElroy was not returned.

Since the identities of grand jurors--as well as details of their deliberations--remain secret, there is no way of knowing what impact McElroy’s testimony had on members of the panel, which subsequently declined to vote indictments against Wilson. That decision touched off looting and arson in Ferguson, about 30 miles from the apartment the divorced McElroy shares with her three daughters.

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 (seen at left) 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.

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