Days after he fatally shot an unarmed black teen in August, Officer Darren Wilson was cutting grass when he was told his home address was circulating online.
Within three hours, he’d grabbed some bags and gone into hiding, according to his attorneys.
“He had to leave the grass, literally, half mowed,” his lawyer, Neil Bruntrager, told CNN’s Don Lemon late Wednesday.
Since then, he’s stayed under the radar by moving from house to house, including briefly living with one of his lawyers, and spending time watching movies in dark theaters to avoid detection.
‘Not a question of if … but when’
His lawyers revealed details about his time in hiding to CNN and The Washington Post newspaper Wednesday.
They told CNN that Wilson is in talks to leave the Ferguson Police Department and may give up being an officer altogether — after a grand jury decided not to indict him in the death of Michael Brown.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” Bruntrager said about his leaving the Police Department.
Bruntrager confirmed what CNN originally reported last week.
His time in hiding
Wilson’s shooting of the teen sparked days of sometimes violent protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson.
As a result, the officer’s address was shared online, forcing him to flee his home, his attorneys said.
“There were death threats out against him,” Bruntrager said. “There were bounties that had been placed upon his life.”
His client, he said, resorted to various measures to hide his identity.
“He’s had to learn to live in a way that makes him completely unnoticeable. As a consequence, there are several techniques that he utilizes that make that happen,” Bruntrager said without elaborating. “It’s an odd way to live your life. But for him, it’s all about his family.”
Except for his getting married last month, Bruntrager told The Washington Post on Wednesday that Wilson mostly stayed out of the public eye.
Wilson preferred going to the movies because it was dark, Bruntrager told the paper, jokingly saying that the officer “cross-dressed a lot.”
Keeping him safe was the first priority, he said.
Immediately after the shooting, Wilson maintained that he wanted to return to his job as a police officer, his lawyers said.
But his officer days may be behind him.
“Realistically, he can’t go back to being a police officer,” Bruntrager said. “He knows that. There’s no illusion about any of this. But it’s the way in which he leaves … that’s important to him on different levels.”
Another attorney told The Post that Wilson’s safety had a lot to do with his decision to leave.
“I think I expressed to him, ‘Do you realize your first call (back on the job) will be to a blind alley where you’re executed?’ He took a pause for a minute, thought about it and said, ‘Oh.’ That is the reality,” his attorney, James Towey, told the paper.
Wilson, 28, spent six years with the Ferguson Police Department before being placed on leave after the shooting on August 9. Before his stint in Ferguson, he worked for two years at another police department.
Last week, CNN reported that Wilson told associates he would resign to help ease pressure and protect his fellow officers.
Wilson had expressed concern about resigning while the grand jury was hearing evidence for fear it would appear he was admitting fault.
His many interviews
Wilson has said he killed the 18-year-old out of fear for his life during their encounter. He maintains he did nothing wrong and was forced to shoot Brown after the teen attacked him and tried to take his gun.
“I just felt the immense power that he had. And then the way I’ve described it is, it was like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan,” Wilson told ABC News on Tuesday. “That’s just how big this man was. He was very large, very powerful man.”
His lawyers said his story has remained the same throughout.
“I met Darren Wilson approximately one hour after the incident,” his attorney, Greg Kleoppel, told CNN. “That statement has been consistent one hour after the shooting, the following interview with the St. Louis County detective and on August 10 when it was recorded at the St. Louis County Police Department.”
Bruntrager said the officer went through a series of interviews.
“Before he testified before the grand jury, he was also interviewed by the FBI and the Justice Department. They came in and gave him an exceedingly rigorous interview, where they didn’t leave any question unasked,” he said.
Called a ‘murderer’
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., didn’t mince words when he spoke about the officer. He described him as a “murderer” during an interview with CNN.
“He understood his actions. He understood exactly what he was doing. You know, he didn’t have a second thought, a pushback thought, or nothing. He was intending to kill someone. That’s how I look at it,” the elder Brown said. “He was going to kill someone at that point.”
Wilson’s legal fights may not be over. There’s a federal investigation under way.
“So we have a civil rights charge potentially down the road,” Kleoppel told CNN. “However, that’s going to be very difficult to prove, because on a civil rights violation, you must prove that he intended to violate an individual’s rights, and in this case, his life. Civil suit … we’ll have to wait and see.”
But his legal issues are the least of Wilson’s worries.
“He still has to deal with so many other issues because of all this,” Bruntrager said.
‘Sorry for your loss’
Though he has not said much, Wilson sympathizes with Brown’s family, his lawyers said.
“His remorse and his sadness about what happened is there, and it’s real,” Bruntrager told CNN.
“But in respect to the Browns, he’s been very careful to sort of stand back. He knows that whatever he says, it’s not going to be read as he means it. He thought it’s better to say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ It’s simple, but it’s direct. And if you knew him, you’d understand that’s the kind of guy he is.”