What does Michael Brown’s official autopsy report actually reveal?
Editor’s note: The grand jury on November 24 decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on any charges related to the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Demonstrators took to the street in the area surrounding Ferguson, in addition to cities across the United States, to protest the ruling.
After the official autopsy on Michael Brown was leaked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in October, details of the autopsy seemed to be partially misconstrued, according to outside experts commissioned by the newspaper to review the report.
The St. Louis County medical examiner’s autopsy report indicated that 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot in the hand at close range during an altercation with Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. To support that finding, the autopsy said a microscopic exam found foreign matter “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm” on the tissue of Brown’s thumb wound.
The county’s report also showed that Brown was shot six times, with gunshot wounds to the head and chest as the cause of death. An additional toxicology report detected marijuana in Brown’s blood.
According to the Associated Press, the report, however, did not explain why Wilson shot Brown after a struggle in the police officer’s SUV nor clarified whether Brown was surrendering or reaching for the officer’s weapon.
Wilson has said that Brown reached for his gun, while various witnesses have stated that they saw Brown being shot while running away. An independent autopsy commissioned by Brown’s family — that was publicly released in August — did not conclude that Brown was shot at close range.
Forensic pathologist Judy Melinek and St. Louis city medical examiner Michael Graham reviewed the county’s report for The Post-Dispatch. The paper quoted Melinek as saying, “[This] guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound.” Hours later, she told MSNBC that her words were taken out of context, adding that the findings could also explain other scenarios besides Wilson’s self-defense argument.
“What happens sometimes is when you get interviewed and you have a long conversation with a journalist, they’re going to take things out of context,” she said Wednesday. “I made it very clear that we only have partial information here. We don’t have the scene information. We don’t have the police investigation. We don’t have all the witness statements. And you can’t interpret autopsy findings in a vacuum.”
In a blog post, Melinek posted the email exchange between her and the Post-Dispatch, detailing the misrepresentation in the paper’s resulting article.
Graham, who also reviewed the autopsy report for the Post-Dispatch, told the NewsHour that the report showed an altercation took place at the car.”Whether or not it’s self-defense, you’ve got to look at all the accounts,” he said. “This report doesn’t fundamentally answer the question of whether at some point [Brown] had his hands up as witnesses have said, or whether he surrendered, or whether they were up in an aggressive posture.”
“As you look at this [report], people are grabbing onto one thing, trying to make a whole case on this one finding,” said Graham. “You can’t do that.”
After the autopsy was leaked to the Post-Dispatch, 200 people gathered outside the Ferguson police headquarters Wednesday night. Local authorities arrested five people for disturbing the peace or failing to disperse. Protesters had pelted officers with objects, including rocks. No injures were reported.
The killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, by a white police officer has thrown the town of Ferguson, Missouri into weeks of unrest. The county’s report was not meant to be released until after a grand jury decided whether to criminally try Wilson for Brown’s death.