By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times
After raising more than $400,000 for the police officer who killed an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Mo., two donation pages were shut down without explanation over the weekend.
On the crowdsourced fundraising site GoFundMe, “Support Officer Darren Wilson” and “Support Officer Wilson” — two separate pages with similar names — raised $235,750 and $197,620, respectively, for the officer who shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
A similar page for Brown’s family, run by the family’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, had raised $316,194 as of Monday afternoon.
The shooting triggered unrest and protests against the overwhelmingly white police force in mostly black Ferguson. Local and federal investigations are seeking to determine whether Wilson wrongfully killed Brown, 18.
Both donation pages appear to have stopped accepting contributions around the same time on Saturday, and as of Monday afternoon, the pages’ organizers had not explained why. If a visitor attempts to donate, a message appears that says: “Donations are Complete! The organizer has stopped donations.”
A spokeswoman for GoFundMe said the website had not halted the donations.
“Each and every GoFundMe campaign organizer is able to decide for themselves when they would like to stop accepting donations,” said the statement from GoFundMe spokeswoman Kelsea Little. “Organizers may also choose to begin accepting donations again at a later date.”
The “Support Officer Wilson” page is run by a St. Louis police charity called “Shield of Hope,” which has been certified by GoFundMe as a valid donation recipient.
The three officers listed on Shield of Hope’s state nonprofit records are Joseph Eagan, Timothy Zoll and Jeffrey Roorda. Zoll is a public information officer for the Ferguson Police Department, Eagan is a city council member for nearby Florissant, and Roorda is a Democratic member of the Missouri House of Representatives who is running for state Senate.
Roorda, a former police officer, sponsored a bill in January that would keep officers’ names secret if they were involved in a shooting, unless they were criminally charged. That bill went nowhere.
Eagan, the president of Shield of Hope, said in an email Monday that he had been traveling and that all public responses would come from Roorda, the group’s vice president. Neither Roorda nor Zoll have responded to requests for comment.
Nor has the Los Angeles Times been able to reach the anonymous founder of the “Support Officer Darren Wilson” page, a user called “Stand Up,” who has not been officially certified as a verified recipient on the donation page. GoFundMe’s spokeswoman vouched for the anonymous donor in a statement to the Times, however.
In contrast to the other Wilson page and the donation page for Brown, little information has been given to donors about who is running the anonymous fundraising effort.
In a message to visitors two weeks ago, the anonymous Wilson fundraiser page wrote that it was working with Shield of Hope to become a verified recipient. That has not happened. The fundraiser also gave out a pseudonymous Gmail account to users seeking more information, but has not responded to a request for comment sent to that account.
In its statement, GoFundMe spokeswoman Little said the anonymously run donation page had also been removed from its search results, adding that “this campaign no longer meets GoFundMe’s stated requirement of having a valid Facebook account connected.”
GoFundMe’s security policies encourage users to “only contribute payments to GoFundMe users they personally know and trust. … Unfortunately there is no way to 100 percent guarantee that a user’s GoFundMe donation page contains accurate or truthful information.”
But Little said GoFundMe “has been in contact with the campaign organizer and has no reason to question their authenticity.”
A popular Facebook page that has been organizing pro-Wilson efforts, called “Support Officer Wilson,” told followers this weekend that lawyers were working on a solution as to why the GoFundMe fundraisers had been shut down, but provided no more information. (The Facebook page is also run anonymously, and those remarks could not be independently verified.)
After the Times published a version of this story on its website Sunday, users who posted financial questions about the fundraisers said their comments were being deleted from the Facebook page. The comments objecting to the deletions also were deleted.
Photo: David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT