AN UNARMED black teenager fatally shot by police suffered a bullet wound to his right arm that may have occurred when he put his hands up or when his back was turned to the shooter, “but we don’t know,” a pathologist hired by the teen’s family said yesterday.
An independent post-mortem examination conducted on Michael Brown determined that the 18-year-old was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, according to the family’s lawyers.
Mr Brown was shot by a police officer on 9 August in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis in Missouri, touching off a week of rancorous protests in which police have used riot gear and tear gas. State governor Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard to Ferguson to restore order. The teenager’s death heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and the mostly white Ferguson police department.
Civil rights activists have compared the shooting to other racially charged cases, especially the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot by a Florida neighbourhood watch organiser, who was later acquitted of murder.
Both cases have fuelled nationwide debates on the treatment of young black men in the United States.
Police have said little about the encounter between the teenager and the white officer, except to say that it involved a scuffle in which the officer was injured and Mr Brown was shot. Witnesses say the teenager had his hands in the air as the officer fired multiple rounds.
Forensic pathologist Shawn Parcells, who assisted former New York City chief medical examiner Dr Michael Baden during the autopsy, said a graze wound on Mr Brown’s right arm could have occurred in several ways. The teenager may have had his back to the shooter, or he could have been facing the shooter with his hands above his head or in a defensive position in front of his face. “But we don’t know,” Mr Parcells said.
Mr Baden said one of the bullets entered the top of Mr Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when he suffered the fatal injury. The pathologists said Mr Brown, who also was shot four times in the right arm, could have survived the other bullet wounds.
Mr Baden said there was no gun-powder residue on Mr Brown’s body, indicating he was not shot at close range. However, Mr Baden said he did not have access to Mr Brown’s clothing, and that it was possible the residue could be on the clothing.
A grand jury could begin hearing evidence tomorrow to determine whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged over Mr Brown’s death.
Lawyer Benjamin Crump said the Brown family had wanted the additional autopsy because they feared the results of the official post-mortem examination could be biased.
Mr Crump declined to release copies of the report to the media, and the official autopsy report has not been released.
“They could not trust what was going to be put in the reports about the tragic execution of their child,” he said during yesterday’s news conference with Mr Parcells and Mr Baden.
“It verifies that the witness accounts were true: that he was shot multiple times.”
He said the teenager’s mother “had the question any mother would have: ‘Was my child in pain?’”
Dr Baden shared with her his opinion that “he did not suffer”.
He also noted that Mr Brown had abrasions on his face from where he fell to the ground, but “otherwise no evidence of a struggle”.
US attorney general Eric Holder has ordered a federal medical examiner to perform another autopsy.
The justice department already had deepened its civil rights investigation into the shooting. A day earlier, officials said 40 FBI agents were going door to door gathering information in the neighbourhood where Mr Brown was shot.
Police said they fired tear gas to disperse protesters in response to gunfire, looting, vandalism and demonstrators who hurled Molotov cocktails.
Ron Johnson, of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is in command in Ferguson, said at least two people had been wounded in shootings by civilians.
“These violent acts are a disservice to the family of Michael Brown and his memory and to the people of this community who yearn for justice to be served and to feel safe in their own homes,” Governor Nixon said.