4 revelations from the leaked Michael Brown autopsy report

The fact that the report was leaked at all may actually be the most interesting piece of the story


It was revealed Wednesday that the Michael Brown autopsy report was leaked to the St. Louis Post Dispatch

Sure, it’s an interesting read, but the fact that the report was leaked at all may actually be the most interesting piece of the story. The newspaper did not say where it obtained the autopsy and accompanying toxicology reports — the ME’s office has said it won’t officially release the documents until the investigation is complete.

As PoliceOne Columnist Dan Marcou put it, “I do not recall in my entire career ever seeing an instance where four agencies — local, county, state, and federal — have gotten involved in an officer-involved shooting where they have allowed so much rumor, misinformation, and uninformed conjecture to dictate the narrative. Now we have a leaked autopsy report? We’re breaking new ground here and not in a good way.”

Police and EMS responders attend to Michael Brown at the scene of the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson (Mo.) where Brown was killed in a confrontation with Officer Darren Wilson. Left out of all of the so-called analysis in the mainstream media in the aftermath of the Ferguson OIS is any real examination of the science of human performance during rapidly-unfolding, high-stress events. (AP Photo)
Police and EMS responders attend to Michael Brown at the scene of the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson (Mo.) where Brown was killed in a confrontation with Officer Darren Wilson. Left out of all of the so-called analysis in the mainstream media in the aftermath of the Ferguson OIS is any real examination of the science of human performance during rapidly-unfolding, high-stress events. (AP Photo)

The document tells us a little bit more about the encounter on August 9 and seems to squarely validate Officer Wilson’s story. Here are four revelations from the leaked report.

1. It backs up Officer Darren Wilson’s reported statements about the incident
The Post Dispatch had “two experts not involved directly in the case” look at the report, and their conclusions are unsurprising: Evidence supports Officer Darren Wilson’s statement that there was a significant altercation at the car, and that Brown was trying to grab Wilson’s gun. 

Recall that Wilson had reportedly told investigators that Brown had struggled for his pistol inside the squad car and that he had fired the gun twice, hitting Brown once in the hand.

Dr. Judy Melinek — a forensic pathologist in San Francisco — told the Post Dispatch that the autopsy “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound. If he has his hand near the gun when it goes off, he’s going for the officer’s gun.”

Dr. Michael Graham — a St. Louis medical examiner who is not part of the official investigation — told the Post Dispatch that “someone got an injury that tore off skin and left it on the car. 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.”

Furthermore, Melinek added that witness testimony that Brown was shot while running away from Wilson, or with his hands up, falls apart when laid against the evidence contained in the autopsy report.

“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,” said Post Dispatch. 

Interestingly, that narrative is precisely what I outlined to be the most likely scenario when I wrote Examining issues of time in the Ferguson shooting.  

2. It highlights the importance of the hands (and in a way not yet being widely discussed)
Much has been made in the mainstream media about the leaked documents detailing a gunshot wound to Michael Brown’s hand. 

PoliceOne Contributor Moe Greenberg said, “Is the gunshot wound to Michael Brown's hand significant? Yes. But so are the other wounds he received. They each become part of entirety of the incident — the big picture. I don't mean to belittle its significance but the St. Louis County autopsy report and Medical Examiner’s testimony will be just one of many pieces of the Michael Brown puzzle to be considered,” Greenberg said.

This one line in the leaked documents about the hands may be among the most important: 

“The deceased hands were bagged with paper bags to save any trace evidence.”

Of course he did. For weeks I’ve been patiently waiting for any news about the status of Brown’s hands. More specifically, whether or not the knuckles showed signs of swelling or other damage typically incurred in a fisted altercation. This will quite likely be the next document to leak... 

3. It’s about the totality of evidence (as it should be)
The fact is, much more has yet to be revealed and the leaked documents are really just two elements among many, many pieces of evidence and information related to the incident — all of which are certainly being considered by the grand jury right now. 

“An autopsy report is not the be-all-that ends-all ‘smoking gun’ piece of evidence that determines one’s guilt or innocence. A medical examiner’s autopsy report and testimony becomes just as important as a witness’ account of an incident or, the physical evidence collected in the case, or the actions of the police officers, investigators, and forensic technicians throughout the course of the investigation.”

Greenberg said further that “The Michael Brown case — despite its tragedy and controversies — is at the end of the day death investigation. In this case it’s a death investigation that has generated a great deal of attention and as such, multiple autopsies. In any death investigation, the autopsy report becomes a piece of the overall ‘case puzzle’.”

4. It calls into question the motive behind the leak
Marcou concluded that “a critical element of officer involved shootings is a release of accurate information from a credible Public Information Officer in a timely manner that prevents misinformation from becoming ingrained in the permanent record and the public psyche as has happened here. We in law enforcement knew this misinformation has been happening ever since news reporters said the officer involved pulled a 279 pound man into the window of his squad.” 

By leaking the autopsy report, someone risked their career to get the truth out. One does wonder about the timing of the leak. Why now and not six or eight weeks ago? I think that the person who leaked the documents was merely trying to prepare the public for what we all know to be coming. I contend that the leak foreshadows the findings of the grand jury considering charges against Wilson to be imminent — and that no charges will be filed.

I believe the leaker was (is) trying to keep Ferguson from burning to the ground when that announcement is made. 

I tend to think that way (read: cynically) about these sorts of things. How about you?

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