August 20th, 2014
10:20 PM ET

Why eyewitnesses are often wrong

For days, protests in response to the death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer have spiraled out of control with reports of individuals throwing bottles, rocks, and even molotov cocktails.

A grand jury convened Tuesday for the first time. The prosecutor says it could take until mid-October for jurors to review all the evidence and eyewitness testimony.

History shows eyewitnesses who see the same event are often wrong but believe they're telling the truth.

Kyung Lah is OutFront with more.

Filed under: Michael Brown • News
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. katbaloo5

    I pray that there is someone out there that captured THE WHOLE THING from start to finish

    August 21, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  2. katbaloo5

    I don't think the witnesses conflict at all. I think they all caught a fast moving confrontation from different angles at different moments (reaching for their phones, coming outside, getting out of their car). If you pieced them together they all make sense.

    August 21, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  3. katbaloo5

    I don't think the witness reports conflict at all, I think they all caught a fast moving occurrence from different angles at different points (reaching for cell phones, coming outside, getting out of cars). All you have to do is piece them together. I pray to god someone who the public does not know about has avideo of the whole thing

    August 21, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  4. Daniel Chestnut

    2nd Police shooting of subject armed with knife in St. Louis, MO.
    From the bystander video aired on CNN, it appears that the suspect does not "take the high ground" to "take out" a specific police officer. The suspect obviously looks over his shoulder to see where the bystanders are in order to remove himself from a position in between the onlookers and the police who is shouting to 'shoot me now'. It's amazing to me that the police themselves didn't consider the bystanders being hit by their firing at the suspect but a 'mentally ill man. Look at the video closely and you will also see the same thing. At the last moment , even as he was very close to the officers his concern was that someone would be hit who was standing and taking video behind him. And, yes, this is obviously "overkill". The officers shot multiple times with no coordination or consideration to the bystanders positions behind the suspect. Your commentator used the words "taking the high ground" (because he had chosen the officer he would "take out", and spoke about the police firing to create "fluid loss" – give me a break! who thinks this way?)

    August 21, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Reply
    • Jim Berg

      CNN hasn't shown the full video which really isn't that graphic. It's horrible to see someone actually being shot, but television shows are much worse. There's no reason they have to censor it. I watched the full video on LiveLeak.com and there is something that is important to see in relation to the Michael Brown shooting. The cops keep shooting as the suspect is falling. The angle of the hits will clearly change as he fell. It's a good bet that the same thing happened to Michael Brown. As he was hit, he started to fall or hunch forward which would explain the hit to the head.

      The suspect in the Saint Louis shooting did take the high ground, but I think your point that he moved so that the cops could fire without hurting bystanders is a good one. That doesn't necessarily mean he was doing it for concern of the bystanders. He could have also done it to ensure that the cops would kill him. Keeping himself between the cops and the bystanders would have protected him from the cops.

      August 22, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  5. Jim Berg

    This was an interesting story. It seems clear to me that the most likely truthful eyewitness account is the one caught candidly on video. The person speaking was not likely a supporter of the police, nor was he being pressured by protestors. His description was also caught immediately after the event. Most of the eyewitness accounts that are coming out in interviews are being shaped by narrative that protestors want to believe. Hell, the one girl that took video after the shooting was wearing a shirt worn by the protestors. There's another one where after it is learned that Mr. Brown was shot in the top of the head, a witness comes out claiming that Mr. Brown was leaning over in pain.

    I'm disappointed in CNN's coverage since obvious things are being overlooked. One CNN commentator did point out that the video of the strong arm robbery was important since it showed what Mr. Brown's state of mind was, but it also showed a behavior that was similar to what was witnessed by the aforementioned candid witness. Mr. Brown shoved the store clerk who tried to stop him from stealing, and then when to clerk tried again, Mr. Brown turned to intimidate the clerk before leaving. The officer's account, and the candid witnesses account, show the same pattern. First he physically attacked the cop, who was seriously injured during the attack (something CNN doesn't mention), and then when the cop got out of his car to do something about it by shooting at a fleeing felon (Yes, attacking a police officer is a felony). Mr. Brown then turned and charged at the officer like he did with the clerk.

    Another point is that you keep referring to Mr. Brown as being unarmed. Yes, we know that now since no weapons were found on his body. The cop never had an opportunity to frisk Mr. Brown, so his state of being armed was unknown. A cop must assume for his own safety that a suspect is armed until proven otherwise. Suspects are like guns. They're loaded until you confirm otherwise.

    The cops in Ferguson are clearly morons when it comes to crowd control and handling firearms. The second rule of firearm safety is that you never point your gun at something unless you plan to destroy it. The first rule is that all guns are loaded. Are they really marching forward with the intent of destroying peaceful protesters because they're not standing where they should be? From a tactical standpoint, they are also idiots. If there was really a threat worthy of a sniper perched on the roof of a truck, that sniper would be dead before he had a chance to act. Clearly that was intended to intimidate the crowd which is clearly an abuse of police power.

    The two cops that shot the man with the knife are more worthy of a protest. I watched the video and that was a cold blooded murder. Since there were two of them, they should never have drawn their firearms since the man was at a safe distance. The man didn't move toward them until they drew their guns. They should have tried to talk him down, used a TASER, or used a club. They could have also used their car for cover from a knife.

    August 21, 2014 at 11:22 am | Reply
    • Jim Berg

      I guess I should back off on my last comment since it contradicts what I said earlier about Michael Brown. The cops only saw a knife, but that doesn't mean that the suspect couldn't also have a gun. It's unlikely, but until it's confirmed, it should be assumed for the safety of the cops.

      August 22, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  6. WB

    Now, do a piece on why police officers often lie to cover up mistakes and/or criminal activities.

    August 21, 2014 at 10:36 am | Reply
  7. B Comment

    Eyewitness testimony doesn't make it true most often but usually on identification. On the other hand physical evidence such as a tape showing state of mind, perp just strong armed a clerk and robbed him. Then having no respect for police officers by not moving from the middle of the road. Physically assaulting the officer. Committing multiple felonies against different people in the same day along with up 6 or 7 misdemeanors usually doesn't end well for the life of a criminal.

    August 21, 2014 at 10:29 am | Reply
  8. Nic

    The sad part about all this is that no one thinks the reaction of everyone is outrageous, I understand being upset and mad but people complain that times haven't change we'll their right cause the reaction is that same as the sixties.there is more that one way to hand a situation but even with that situation people don't look at self and what they brought to the table fort this issues to be what they are. I'm black, grew up in the hood, and I don't see black and white,I teach my kids to be accountable for your actions and the outcome of it.whats sad about all of this is that this is the only time black people come together. We kill each other, don't respect each other, but quick to blame someone else for our shortcomings. I'm a man, father and soldier. I trust some white people more than blacks and it's not a race thing it's a "who I trust thing" I serve with all types of backgrounds. I feel some people speak out on it just to be heard and try to get exposure. I love my country and I will die for my country....if some of the people in this country saw and experienced how others live in these third world countries or even lived there for a month, they'd be begging to come back to the states. This country is not perfect but it's a lot better than most. Instead of complaining you hate the system be about of the solution instead of a continuous problem.respect yourself and you'll get the respect from a lot more people than you do now.

    August 21, 2014 at 12:00 am | Reply

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