The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Wednesday published a report of what it says is the official county autopsy of Michael Brown, the black 18-year-old who was shot during an altercation with white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, in August.
The shooting triggered a wave of riots and unrest that gradually subsided before flaring up again briefly after teenager Vonderitt D. Myers Jr. was fatally shot after firing at an off-duty police officer on October 9.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained what it says is the official autopsy report through a leak. The report was not due to be released until after a grand jury decides whether Wilson will be criminally tried for Brown’s death.
According to an analysis commissioned by the paper from two experts not involved in the official investigation into the shooting, the autopsy confirms much of what was revealed by a prior, independent autopsy commissioned by Brown’s family and made public in August. However, based on the fact that the independent autopsy did not find gunpowder residue on Brown’s body, it concluded Brown’s wounds did not indicate he was shot at close range.
The official county autopsy, which was performed by Dr. Gershom Norfleet, showed Brown was shot in the hand at close range based on the finding of “foreign matter ‘consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm,’” in a wound on Brown’s hand, the Post-Dispatch reports. "[This] guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound,” Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco, told the Post-Dispatch.
The official autopsy also “did not support witnesses who have claimed Brown was shot while running away from Wilson, or with his hands up,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. These witness statements would lead protesters to raise their hands in a stance of surrender while facing police during demonstrations, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Brown's being shot in the hand at close range appears to confirm the account Wilson told to investigators—that Wilson and 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”—a source with knowledge of Wilson’s statements told the Post-Dispatch.
Dr. Michael Graham, the St. Louis medical examiner, reviewed the autopsy report for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and agreed the report “does support that there was a significant altercation in the car.” The autopsy also showed tissue from Brown on the exterior of the driver’s side of Wilson’s vehicle.
A toxicology report accompanying the autopsy report also showed the presence of THC in Brown’s blood and urine, which accords with what a source familiar with the report told The Washington Post in August.
“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.
The results of a federal autopsy have not yet been revealed.
Critically, the autopsy did not resolve the question of whether Brown was surrendering to Wilson or charging at Wilson when he was fatally shot in the head. The grand jury charged with deciding whether Wilson face criminal charges has until January 7 to decide, the Post-Dispatch reports. If the grand jury opts not to charge Wilson, many, including police and activists, fear that protests could erupt again in Ferguson.