What We Learned from an Independent Autopsy of Michael Brown

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Lesley McSpadden (R) and Michael Brown Sr. (L), parents of 18-year-old Michael Brown, listen to speakers during a rally convened in reaction to the shooting of their son, in Ferguson, Missouri August 17, 2014 Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

An independent, preliminary autopsy performed on the body of Michael Brown shows that the 18-year-old was shot “at least six times,” according to Dr. Michael M. Baden, formerly the chief medical examiner for the City of New York, one of two experts who performed the autopsy.

Dr. Baden said Brown’s family asked him and Prof. Shawn Parcells, a pathology assistant, to conduct the independent autopsy because they did not trust local authorities to conduct an unbiased examination of the teenager, who was shot by police officer Darren Wilson in circumstances that remain unclear. The town of Ferguson, Missouri, has been shaken by angry protests since Brown's death and police have responded with tear gas and curfews. 

Six bullets struck Brown, Dr. Baden said in a press conference earlier today. Two may have exited and re-entered Brown’s body, he said, resulting in multiple wounds.

Brown was shot twice in the head, the examination showed: one bullet “entered just above the right eyebrow,” the other “to the very top of the head.” Brown was most likely bending over when the last shot was fired.

RTR42UIW Brown family attorney Daryl Parks points on an autopsy diagram to the head wound that was likely fatal to Michael Brown during a news conference in Ferguson, Missouri August 18, 2014. Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

Dr. Baden and Prof. Parcells said the two shots to the head were probably the last two shots fired. All of the shots, with the exception of the one to the top of the head, were survivable, Dr. Baden said. An attorney for Brown’s family described the shot to the top of the head as “the kill-shot.”

The autopsy did not reveal signs of a struggle, Dr. Baden said, which casts doubt on an earlier statement by police that a struggle between Brown and Wilson precipitated Brown’s shooting. Police have said Brown forced his way inside Wilson’s cruiser, where Wilson shot at Brown for the first time.

Dr. Baden said he found no gunpowder residue on Brown’s skin, which could mean that the muzzle of Wilson’s gun was “at least one or two feet away” from Brown when he was shot. However, Dr. Baden was adamant that he would need to examine Brown’s clothing for gunpowder residue to make a conclusive finding.

Brown’s clothing was not available for Dr. Baden and Prof. Parcells to examine, Baden said, though it was almost certainly examined during Brown’s first autopsy performed by the St. Louis County Medical Examiner. If no gunpowder residue was found on Brown’s clothing during the first autopsy, it will likely throw the Ferguson PD’s timeline of events into question.

Prof. Parcells said a wound on Brown’s right arm was “consistent with a witness statement” that Brown was first shot while facing away from Wilson, but he stressed that he and Dr. Baden could not determine conclusively the trajectories of the bullets that hit Brown—or which direction he was moving—when he was shot. The wounds “could be consistent with going forward or going backward,” Dr. Baden said.

An attorney for Brown’s family said at least some of the shots traced a “back-to-front” trajectory, indicating that Brown was shot from behind.

“Why would he be shot in the top of his head? A 6-foot-4 man?” the attorney asked. “It makes no sense.”

Dr. Baden said he had waived his usual $10,000 fee for the autopsy, adding, “Many black men die of accident or homicide in this country, and the President of the United States has yet to get involved.” The family had tried enlisting the aid of federal authorities without success, Dr. Baden said, when they reached out to him. After Dr. Baden and Prof. Parcell announced they would conduct a second autopsy, federal authorities announced they would conduct a third.

Results of the first, official, autopsy have not been publicly released, though The Washington Post reported on Monday that the St. Louis County medical examiner said Brown was shot multiple times in the head and chest.

A spokesperson for the St. Louis County police department told The New York Times that the department had not seen the new autopsy report and had no comment.

 
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