Updated 7 p.m. Monday
Florida attorney Benjamin Crump started his public representation of the parents of an unarmed black teenager shot by a Ferguson police officer with a news conference in a church packed with reporters and family members.
In a late afternoon event marked by applause and occasional sobbing from the audience, Crump stood with Michael Brown Sr. and Lesley McSpadden, the parents of shooting victim Michael Brown, and asked witnesses to Saturday’s shooting to come forward and give statements to U.S. Department of Justice investigators.
“This family rejects what the police authorities said at the press conference about how this played out,” said Crump, who is best known for representing the family of Trayvon Martin, a black teen shot by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference Sunday that the shooting followed an assault on a police officer, according to news reports. The shooting in the suburb of Ferguson ignited protests that were followed by looting Sunday night.
The details of what led to the fatal incident were unclear, including exactly what led the officer to open fire. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that FBI agents from the St. Louis field office would work with attorneys from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate.
Crump also asked for anyone with video of the incident who had feared turning it over to local law enforcement to bring it to the National Bar Association, a network of predominantly African-American lawyers and judges; the NAACP; or a family member of Brown.
Anthony Gray, of St. Louis firm Johnson Gray, was introduced as local counsel for the family, and NAACP President and Chief Executive Cornell William Brooks spoke briefly.
Brown Sr. described his son as fun and silly, an 18-year-old who would “make you laugh” and deserved justice.
McSpadden, who kept dabbing her eyes, had difficulty speaking, but added, “No violence, just justice, y’all.”
The younger Brown, who had planned to go to technical school to learn to work on heaters and air conditioners, would have been dropped off at school by his parents Monday, Crump said.
“Instead of celebrating his future, they are having to plan his funeral and talk to attorney Gray and I about second autopsies,” Crump said.
Crump gained notoriety for representing the family of Trayvon Martin, shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida, as he walked home with a bag of Skittles and an Arizona-brand drink. Crump said Martin’s father had reached out to Brown Sr. and McSpadden.
Crump had pushed for criminal prosecution of Zimmerman, which ended with an acquittal last summer. Crump won the late teen’s family more than $1 million in a settlement with Zimmerman’s homeowners association, according to an October 2013 USA Today report.
In addition to civil rights, Crump focuses on personal injury and wrongful death cases, according to his firm’s website.
Crump’s firm website bears the motto, “We help David fight Goliath” and lists prominent cases Crump has brought, mostly in Florida. But Crump has been involved in other out-of-state cases as well.
Last year, he helped focus national attention on Kendrick Johnson, a 17-year-old found dead in a rolled-up wrestling mat in a Valdosta, Georgia, high school gym. He helped get the U.S. Attorney’s office to launch a federal investigation after the local sheriff had closed the case.
Crump also was involved for a while in the case of a teen who was paralyzed in a police shooting in Pittsburgh in October, but his name is not on the online court documents for a federal lawsuit brought over the shooting.