In protests held in Ferguson, Mo., for more than two months, some said 18-year-old Michael Brown had his hands up when he was killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Hence the clarion call: “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
But a forensics expert says Brown’s official county autopsy suggests the teenager may not have had his hands raised after all when he was slain on Aug. 9, according to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco who reviewed the autopsy for the Post-Dispatch, told the paper that one of the officer’s shots hit Brown’s forearm and traveled from the back of the arm to the inner arm, which means Brown’s palms could not have been facing Wilson, as some witnesses have said. That trajectory shows Brown probably was not taking a standard surrender position with arms above the shoulders and palms out when he was shot outside the officer’s car, she said.
Neither the St. Louis County medical examiner or her assistant, who conducted the autopsy, was reached for comment by the paper.
Melinek also told the newspaper another bullet struck Brown at close range — and may at that point have been reaching for Wilson’s weapon. The autopsy found material “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm” in a wound on Brown’s thumb. Melinek said this “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.”
A source with knowledge of Wilson’s statements told the Post-Dispatch that the officer told investigators that Brown had struggled for Wilson’s pistol inside a police SUV and that Wilson had fired the gun twice, hitting Brown once in the hand. Later, Wilson fired additional shots outside his patrol vehicle. Wilson reportedly said he fired the shots because Brown charged at him.
Another expert, St. Louis City medical examiner Michael Graham, reviewed the autopsy report for the newspaper. He said Tuesday that it “does support that there was a significant altercation at the car.”
Neither Graham or Melinek is involved in the investigation.
Melinek said the autopsy did not support those who claim Brown was attempting to flee or surrender.
Quoting the paper:
She said Brown was facing Wilson when Brown took a shot to the forehead, two shots to the chest and a shot to the upper right arm. The wound to the top of Brown’s head would indicate he was falling forward or in a lunging position toward the shooter; the shot was instantly fatal. A sixth shot that hit the forearm traveled from the back of the arm to the inner arm, which means Brown’s palms could not have been facing Wilson, as some witnesses have said, Melinek said. That trajectory shows Brown probably was not taking a standard surrender position with arms above the shoulders and palms out when he was hit, she said.”
Early Wednesday, the Post-Dispatch published Wilson’s most detailed account yet, according to an unnamed source with knowledge of his statements to police.
According to the source, Wilson saw Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, walking down the middle of Canfield Drive. Wilson noticed Johnson’s clothing matched the description of a suspect who had just robbed an area market where cigarillos were stolen. Brown was carrying cigarillos in his hand.
Wilson reportedly told investigators that when he tried to get out of the vehicle, Brown slammed the door on him and punched him in the face. Wilson drew his weapon and a struggle ensued.
The source said the first time Wilson tried to shoot, the gun didn’t fire. The second time, it did.
The Post-Dispatch reported:
Wilson told investigators he thought the bullet had struck Brown in the hand, the source said. … Broken window glass was everywhere, and blood was on the door, the gun and Wilson’s hands. At the time, Wilson said, he wasn’t sure whose blood it was.
Sources told the newspaper that Brown’s blood was found on Wilson’s gun. The autopsy confirmed Brown’s blood was on Wilson’s car.
“Someone got an injury that tore off skin and left it on the car,” Graham said. “That fits with everything else that came out. There’s blood in the car, now skin on the car, that shows something happened right there.”
The paper said that the autopsy reported found no “stippling,” powder burns indicative of a shot fired at short range. But it quoted Graham saying that “Sometimes when it’s really close, such as within an inch or so, there is no stipple, just smoke.” It also said that tissue from the thumb wound showed foreign matter “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm.”
Brown has had three autopsies. The Post-Dispatch obtained the official autopsy, released to prosecutors but not the public, for its latest story. A private autopsy done at the behest of Brown’s family, discussed in detail at an August press conference, largely agreed with the official autopsy, but said Brown had not been shot at close range. A third autopsy — the results of which have not been released or been leaked — was performed by the Justice Department.
Eyewitness accounts vary. Johnson, 22, said Wilson grabbed Brown and tried to pull him into the vehicle. Then later, when Brown tried to run, Wilson allegedly chased him, shot him once before he turned around and then shot and killed him while his hands were raised. Others have said Wilson shot at Brown as he fled. Some said Brown stood still. Some said his hands were in the air; some said they were not.
The source who spoke to the newspaper said Wilson told investigators he did indeed get out and chase Brown before Brown rushed him.
The Post-Dispatch wrote:
Wilson said he had yelled for Brown to stop, then fired, the source said. Brown flinched as if he was hit, and Wilson said he had stopped shooting. Brown continued running toward him, and Wilson said he had fired several more shots. The source said that Wilson had recalled that Brown’s head was down when the last shot hit him there.
A toxicology report performed with the autopsy stated Brown had THC in his system, indicating marijuana use.
“The detection of THC in the postmortem blood of Michael Brown really indicates his recent use of marijuana (within a few hours) and that he may or may not have been impaired at the time of his death,” Alfred Staubus, a consultant in forensic toxicology at the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, told the Post-Dispatch in an e-mail.
The Post-Dispatch’s analysis has no legal significance as the world waits for a St. Louis County grand jury to decide whether Wilson will be charged in connection with the shooting. The grand jury’s deadline isn’t until Jan. 7. However, as protests that sharply divided Ferguson in August occasionally re-ignite, the newspaper’s account — even if cloaked in forensic science leaked to media — may prove inflammatory.
“I hope I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that prosecutors are getting ready to drop the hammer on us,” attorney Eric Guster wrote on the Root. “They want us to be ready for what every tear-gassed, unlawfully arrested, shot at, beaten, harassed, billy-clubbed protester doesn’t want to hear: Wilson probably won’t be charged in the killing of Michael Brown.”
On social media, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French (D) — a familiar face on Ferguson’s front lines — questioned whether Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch or the U.S. attorney general should investigate the leaky investigation of Brown’s death.
“Bob McCulloch and Attorney General Holder should be launching investigations into who is leaking this info,” French posted to Twitter. “Police? Attorneys? Jurors?”