Michael Brown’s official autopsy suggests he was shot in the hand at close range during a struggle, but a medical examiner not involved in the investigation says there’s no way to conclude whether the injury meant the unarmed 18-year-old was trying to grab the gun of the officer who killed him.
The St. Louis County medical examiner’s autopsy report, obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, doesn’t explain why Brown was killed after the apparent scuffle at Officer Darren Wilson’s police vehicle spilled onto a Ferguson street or confirm whether he was confronting Wilson or trying to surrender when he was fatally shot.
Accounts of the Aug. 9 shooting differ, but witnesses and law enforcement officials have said Brown and Wilson got into an altercation through the window of the officer's vehicle after Wilson told Brown and a friend to leave the middle of a street.
Brown, who was shot six times, died about 30 feet from the patrol car.
The shooting of Brown, who is black, by Wilson, who is white, triggered sometime violent unrest and protests that lasted for weeks drawing international attention to Ferguson, a primarily black community with a mostly white police force and city government, and to race relations in the United States.
Wilson, who had been patrolling Ferguson for nearly three years, was placed on leave after the shooting. A state grand jury is expected to decide by mid-November whether Wilson will face criminal charges. The Justice Department is investigating the Ferguson Police Department for possible civil rights violations, including whether officers there use excessive force and engage in discriminatory practices.
The autopsy showed Brown suffered six bullet entrance wounds and listed “gunshot wounds to the head and chest” as the cause of death.
The autopsy report said a microscopic exam showed that foreign matter found on tissue from Brown’s injured thumb was “consistent with products that are discharged from the barrel of a firearm.”
A toxicology report with the autopsy showed Brown had marijuana in his system.
A representative for St. Louis County medical examiner verified the autopsy report but said the office did not release it.
Some activists said the leak of the report appeared to be part of an orchestrated effort to bolster support for Wilson and had added to tensions in the strained community.
"It is intentional that they are leaking this stuff," said Tory Russell, an organizer of Hands Up United, which has called for Wilson to be charged for shooting Brown. "At every turn they are saying Mike Brown was a bad guy and deserved to die."
The Post-Dispatch report came days after the New York Times, citing federal government officials briefed on a separate civil rights investigation, reported that Wilson told investigators he feared for his life and battled with Brown in his vehicle over his gun.
Dwain Fuller, a Dallas-forensic toxicologist, said the report indicated “recent use” that likely mean Brown was still feeling the effect of the drug, but “as far as that making him violent, one can’t really say.”
The findings were similar to those of an autopsy commissioned by Brown’s family and released on Aug. 18, said Michael Baden, the former New York City medical examiner who performed the independent exam.
Forensic pathologist Shawn Parcells, who assisted Baden, told the Associated Press there is no forensic evidence to verify whether Brown was surrendering or moving aggressively toward Wilson.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever know,” Parcells said.
Baden agreed. “The questions are going to go far beyond the autopsy,” he said.
Results of a third autopsy, performed by the Justice Department, have not been released.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown's parents, said the autopsy was not surprising given that several witnesses said there was an altercation at the patrol car.
"What we want to know is why Officer Wilson shot Michael Brown multiple times and killed him even though he was more than 20 feet away from his patrol car; this is the crux of the matter," Crump said in a statement.