St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

ST. LOUIS — The co-owner of a Ferguson market is disputing a documentary film's claims that newly public surveillance footage of Michael Brown at the market casts a new light on the events leading up to the fatal shooting of Brown by a police officer in 2014.

The film theorizes that Brown had an arrangement with employees to exchange store merchandise for marijuana, and that footage released by police in the days after the shooting shows the second part of such an exchange, not Brown robbing the store.

The release of the new footage brought a small group of about 18 protesters to Ferguson Market & Liquor Sunday night. Ferguson officers monitored the protest at the store, at 9101 West Florissant Avenue.

The documentary, "Stranger Fruit," premiered Saturday at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The film highlights surveillance footage showing Brown visiting the store around 1 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2014. That was about 11 hours before he returned to the store in what has been portrayed as a strong-arm robbery. Brown was fatally shot during a confrontation with a Ferguson police officer just after that second visit to the store.

Filmmaker Jason Pollock argues Brown exchanged a small amount of marijuana with store clerks for two boxes of cigarillos in that first, early-morning visit to the store, according to a clip of the documentary included in a story by The New York Times. He further asserts the video footage of the store later in the day does not show a robbery but rather behavior tied to the previous visit.

Ferguson Market co-owner And Patel said Sunday he was not at the store at the time of Brown's 1 a.m. visit and is unaware of any arrangement between his employees and Brown. But Patel, 59, re-asserted that Brown robbed the store of a package of cigarillos in the second visit to the store just before noon.

Patel said Brown "grabbed the cigarillos and stole them."

Video footage of that incident was released by police days after Brown was killed. The video shows Brown strong-arming his way out of the store with the cigarillos. Brown is shown grabbing and shoving Patel in that video, recorded minutes before Brown's fatal encounter with then-police officer Darren Wilson on a street in the nearby Canfield Green Apartment Complex.

But Pollock, the documentary maker, argues the first video shows Brown gave the cigarillos back to the store clerks who then put them behind the counter. He suggests Brown left the merchandise at the store to retrieve at a later point.

"Mike did not rob the store," says the film narrator.

Pollock questions why only the second tape was released publicly by police in the aftermath of the shooting. "They destroyed Michael's character with the tape, and they didn't show us what actually happened," Pollock told the Times.

Jay Kanzler, an attorney for the convenience store and its employees, told the Times that his clients dispute the film's version of events.

"There was no transaction," Kanzler told the newspaper. "There was no understanding. No agreement. Those folks didn't sell him cigarillos for pot."

It's unclear from the footage what's contained in the small package that Brown handed to store clerks, but the footage appears to show clerks holding the contents to their noses to smell.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in an interview Saturday that he was unaware of Brown's visit to the store a little after 1 a.m. He said Ferguson police had handled the incident at the store while county police primarily focused on investigating the shooting.

Former Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said in an interview that he hadn't seen the 1 a.m. surveillance video. He said it was unfair to connect the Ferguson Market to a drug transaction.

Pollock was alerted to the existence of the surveillance when he saw Brown's earlier visit to the store mentioned in police records, according to The New York Times. Pollock later obtained the footage, though it's not clear how.

Business was brisk outside the market on Sunday with a steady stream of customers coming and going. Numerous customers said they were unaware of the newly released video.

Protesters arrived in the evening and stood outside with signs. Someone used chalk to write "Justice for Mike Brown" on the parking lot.


(David Carson and Nancy Cambria of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.)