The U.S. Department of Justice investigative report on the Ferguson Police Department released on March 4 put into new perspective a key police witness who testified to the St. Louis County Grand jury and federal investigators about Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of Michael Brown Jr. on August 9.
The DoJ review of emails provided by the Ferguson Police Department turned up a series of jokes about African Americans (including the president and first lady) that has led to one termination and two resignations.
One of the two veteran Ferguson police commanders who resigned on Thursday, March 5, Sgt. William Mudd, was the first police supervisor on the scene at Canfield Drive following the fatal shooting on August 9 and the first person to speak to Wilson about the event.
Mudd testified to the grand jury on September 16. The witness’ name is redacted in the transcripts provided to the public by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch. However, the Ferguson police sergeant who testified to interviewing Wilson soon after the shooting also testified about his own role shooting and killing a threat at St. Louis County Courthouse in 1992, for which Mudd was awarded a Medal of Valor. Mudd also belatedly filled out an incident report about Wilson’s fatal shooting of Brown, which confirms this witness is Mudd.
Sgt. Mudd resigned on Thursday, according to the Post-Dispatch, following his identification as the police commander responsible for emailing one of the jokes about black people circulated within the Ferguson Police Department. Mudd reportedly was responsible for emailing (in May 2011) a joke about CrimeStoppers paying a black woman to have an abortion. The DoJ noted that no one at the time was censured for circulating the racial jokes, which in fact tended to be forwarded to others approvingly.
Mudd’s finding humor in this joke about a black woman’s abortion stopping crime puts into perspective his testimony before the grand jury on September 16. It also shows something about the mindset of the first police supervisor to arrive on the scene of an officer-involved shooting where the deceased was left lying on the pavement for four and a half hours while canines were deployed for crowd control.
What Sgt. Mudd expected from Canfield Green residents when he arrived at the scene on August 9 comes up in his grand jury testimony. It is the first thing assistant prosecutor Sheila Whirley (who is black) wanted to talk about after taking over questioning from assistant prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh (who is white). It’s a puzzling exchange where – as often happened in these proceedings – the prosecutor presumes to speak for the police officer she is supposed to be questioning.
“Did you know the relationship that the police had with that community?” the prosecutor asked Mudd.
“I have responded to numerous calls, I've assisted numerous calls over there,” Mudd responded. This suggests he did know what the relationship is without actually describing it.
“Was it known what the relationship was between the community and the police?” Whirley asked again, still not asking what Mudd thinks.
“We, as far as my squad and myself is concerned, every time we responded over there, we responded for whatever the call is, we handle the call and we left,” Mudd said. Get in, and get out.
The prosecutor went fishing then, introducing a possibly “friendly” relationship between police and Canfield.
“Was it a relationship that was friendly,” Whirley asked, “or did the residents …”
Mudd interrupted: “Business relationship.”
After Whirley repeated, “Business,” Mudd continued, “A business relationship. I mean, some of the officers knew tenants and whatnot from previous encounters.”
Thus far the prosecutor has managed to learn nothing about what the police sergeant thinks about the black community in Canfield Green Apartments.
Next, the prosecutor introduced a negative judgment and then asked the police witness to deny it.
“Okay,” Whirley said. “So there was no understanding that the residents just hated the police, it wasn't like that?”
Mudd responded, “No, ma'am, no.”
And the prosecutor concluded that line of questioning without eliciting anything at all from Mudd concerning his thoughts or expectations about the community he and Wilson were policing.
The grand jury learned a little more from this witness when Whirley asked for Mudd to testify about Wilson’s reaction when Michael Brown Jr. allegedly told him to “fuck off,” which in Wilson’s version of events started the escalation that ended in Brown’s killing.
“Did he indicate that he was angered at all when he was told to fuck off?” the prosecutor asked of Wilson.
“Well,” Mudd responded, “no police officer likes being told that. I don't think he was angered as much as he was just taken aback by it for no reason whatsoever.”
Whirley asked if it was “like a sign of disrespect?” to be told to “fuck off,” and Mudd, a police veteran of nearly four decades, waxed briefly nostalgic.
“You know, respect toward the police nowadays is not like it used to be,” Mudd said. “Most of the time it is under their breath or just barely within earshot, but evidently at this point in time it was told quite directly at him.”
Mudd has described a modern culture of disrespect for police where “most of the time it is under their breath or just barely within earshot,” but police are always being disrespected in vulgar terms. Given the DOJ’s finding that Ferguson Police devote nearly their entire time to ticketing and arresting black people, it must be black people disrespecting police “under their breath.” Finally, the grand jury is beginning to hear something about the “business relationships” that Mudd and Wilson have in the black community and how the sergeant feels about those relationships.
But Whirley did not probe. She moved onto logistics of the incident.
Eventually, she came back to something Mudd had said earlier under questioning by Alizadeh. He had testified that, according to Wilson, Brown taunted Wilson that the cop was “too much of a pussy” to shoot him.
“This is the first time we heard about ‘too much of a pussy to shoot me’,” Whirley said. In his previous recorded statement to the FBI, Mudd did not include that detail.
“I recalled that since my recorded statement,” Mudd said, explaining that he recorded his statement to the FBI in the heat of August protests when he “was working 12-plus hours a day.”
Mudd’s assumptions and expectations about the black community, and how they might lead him to email a joke about abortion stopping crime in the black community, remain veiled in his grand jury testimony. But his assumptions and expectations about use of lethal force as a police supervisor come through loud and clear.
Whirley recalled something Mudd said in his recorded statement to the FBI about being required, as Wilson’s supervisor, to ask him “stupid questions” about how the officer might have prevented killing the teenager.
“This question is not meant as any disrespect,” Whirley said, “but your recorded statement you said that, um, you have to ask stupid questions like how this could be prevented?”
“I'm sorry?” Mudd responded, either confused or needing a moment to frame an answer.
“In your recorded statement,” Whirley repeated, “you said that you are required to ask officers stupid questions like how could this incident prevented?”
“That's on the injury report,” Mudd responded – going no further than identifying where he is asked the question, without explaining why he thinks the question is “stupid.”
For once, the prosecutor kept going.
“You feel that's a stupid question,” Whirley asked, “because you feel your officers don't have any other choice?”
“Correct,” Mudd answered.
“When you are in that kind of situation?” the prosecutor added.
Then Mudd laid bare his professional opinion of the justified use of lethal force: “When you are physically attacked unprovoked, I believe ‘how could he prevent this?’ is a stupid question.”
The assumption is that once an officer has been attacked without provocation – as Wilson and Mudd claim Brown attacked Wilson through the window of the police car – it’s “stupid” to ask what the cop can do to prevent killing his assailant. It was stupid, Wilson’s supervisor thought, to ask Wilson what he could have done to prevent killing Michael Brown Jr.
Now that we know his taste in jokes about black people like Michael Brown Jr., we know one preventive measure that Mudd might suggested, under his breath or in an email to his colleagues: if the black youth had never been born into his life of crime and disrespect, Mudd’s abortion joke implies, then the police officer would not have had to kill him.
Until a Freedom of Information Act request produces the entire email chain, it’s not known whether Wilson received the racial abortion joke from Mudd, or from someone else within the department who received it from Mudd and thought it was funny enough to pass along. But in his grand jury testimony, Mudd did recall Wilson smiling, if not laughing. In fact, the cop’s supervisor was one of the grand jury’s best sources for Wilson’s allegedly warm and sunny disposition, so different from the dark “demon” Wilson described seeing in Mike Brown.
"Darren is a very easygoing individual,” Mudd testified of Wilson, “always has a smile on his face.”