By Mario Trujillo - 08/15/14 10:02 AM EDT
Police have identified Darren Wilson as the officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager last week in Ferguson, Mo., setting off four days of riots and a national debate over police force and tactics.
Wilson was named nearly a week after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in a shooting in which witnesses and police have given conflicting stories of what happened.
The police chief said Wilson encountered Brown when returning from a police call about a sick individual. Ten minutes before the shooting, police dispatch described a suspect who had been involved in a "strong-arm" robbery "nearby."
Jackson did not say whether Brown fit the description of the robbery call, or if that is what prompted the officer to confront Brown.
According to an initial incident report of the robbery at a convenience store written by another officer, Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson are identified by security camera footage as suspects in the robbery.
The report states Brown attempted to leave the store without paying for a box of Swisher Sweet cigars then pushed a worker into a display case when confronted. Before leaving Brown allegedly "towers over" the worker "appearing to intimidate him."
Jackson also did not identify Wilson's race, though only three members of the 53-person police department in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, are black.
Police defended withholding Wilson's name, saying they needed to keep the six-year veteran’s identity secret because of death threats on social media.
Jackson spoke a day after the Missouri Highway Patrol took over security in Ferguson. The shift reportedly had an immediate effect on the streets, with no reports Friday of arrests.
Capt. Ron Johnson, who is leading the Highway Patrol operation, sought to de-escalate the tension on Thursday, mingling with protesters and even marching with them at one point.
Police had come under criticism for an overly militarized presence and for firing rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators and members of the media.
The Justice Department has opened up an investigation into the shooting to see if any civil rights violations were committed, in addition to a probe from local authorities.
Police have said that Brown assaulted the officer and tried to grab Wilson’s weapon during a struggle inside his police car, where a shot was fired. Other witnesses have contested that.
The executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police told The Hill the officer is a member of the group and one of its lawyers is representing him.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) called the release of the officer's name a “good move” when asked about it earlier on Friday. He said he had urged for the release of the name for days.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said earlier Friday that withholding the name led to the community's feeling that police were “trying to figure out how to get around prosecution.”
He noted that Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who killed former President John F. Kennedy, was identified faster than the Ferguson officer.
— This story was updated at 11:03 a.m.