In the debate over whether Officer Darren Wilson was justified or criminally culpable in the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, the pro-Wilson narrative parrots an account that alleged that the physically larger Michael Brown charged at Officer Wilson “like a football player,” a claim that was made by grand jury Witness 40, whom St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch called in to testify. However, an exhaustive report on Witness 40, compiled by William Bastone, Andrew Goldberg, and Joseph Jesselli at The Smoking Gun, calls into question whether she was present on the day that the events occurred and what might have motivated her to fabricate her account. The above-embedded video, provided by Democracy Now!, includes an interview with William Bastone in which he goes into detail about his investigation into Witness 40’s testimony.
The report identified Witness 40 as 45-year-old St. Louis woman Sandra McElroy and paints her as a pathological liar with a criminal past. She reportedly made a variety of racist statements online, and her social media postings in the wake of Michael Brown’s death fit the pattern of an Officer Wilson supporter, rather than a witness to the shooting. McElroy, a fan of crime dramas, had previously offered herself as a witness to another criminal investigation which had generated significant media attention, though police assigned to that case dismissed her account as a “complete fabrication.”
McElroy waited until four weeks after the shooting to contact police. At the time at which she offered her testimony, Officer Wilson’s side of the story had been making its rounds in the media, and McElroy’s account mirrored the story detailed in those reports. She was interviewed first by St. Louis police and then by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who were so skeptical of her account that they pointed out the fact that she could face criminal charges for fabricating her testimony. Despite these red flags, Prosecutor Robert McCulloch called her to testify before the grand jury that would later opt against charging Officer Wilson in Brown’s death.
When FBI agents asked the Caucasian McElroy why she was in Ferguson, 30 miles from her home, on that day, she claimed that she had gotten lost while visiting a friend in the area and had stopped at the scene to ask for directions. However, at a November 3 grand jury hearing, she changed her story, saying that she would routinely “go into all the African-American neighborhoods” in an effort to improve race relations, and that, on that day, she planned to “go in and have coffee and… strike up a conversation with an African-American” in an effort to improve her understanding of the African-American community such that she could, according to a journal entry she provided to the grand jury, learn to “stop calling blacks n****** and start calling them people.”
The Smoking Gun‘s report also notes that McElroy at one point ran an online fundraising campaign to support Officer Darren Wilson, which she has since taken down. It is as-yet unknown as to whether or not her short-lived fundraising campaign generated any donations and what might have happened to the proceeds. An additional report by The Huffington Post argues that investigators made several mistakes while collecting evidence for the case, including failures to collect evidence in a timely manner and omitting basic steps like testing Officer Wilson’s gun, which Michael Brown allegedly grabbed, for fingerprints.