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Official autopsy on Michael Brown shows close-range wound

The official examinations obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reveal that the Missouri teen had a close-range wound to his hand and marijuana in his system.
Neighborhood residents light candles at a memorial for 18-year-old Michael Brown on Canfield Street on Oct. 20, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.
Neighborhood residents light candles at a memorial for 18-year-old Michael Brown on Canfield Street on Oct. 20, 2014 in Ferguson, Mo.

The official autopsy on Michael Brown, obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatchshows the Ferguson, Missouri, teenager was shot in the hand at close range. The accompanying toxicology report reveals the 18-year-old had a trace of marijuana in his system, according to the local newspaper.

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The reports provide the most detailed description of Brown's injuries from the confrontation on Aug. 9 with Officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot the African-American teen. The results, together with a separate autopsy conducted in August, attempt to piece together a narrative of the circumstances leading to Brown’s death, a storyline that shifts at crucial junctures depending on which side interprets the findings.

The autopsy leaked on Wednesday largely aligns with a separate report conducted at the behest of Brown’s family after the killing but for the distance at which they say Brown was shot. The family’s autopsy released on Aug. 18 by nationally renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, indicated that it appeared Brown’s wounds were suffered from some distance, from one foot to 30 feet away.

The first autopsy indicates that Brown was shot at least six times. The county autopsy released today includes nine wounds, six entry wounds and three exit wounds.

The latest autopsy also accompanied by a narrative of events that preceded the shooting. That narrative aligns with Officer Wilson’s version of the story, and is gleaned from an investigator with the St. Louis County Police Department. In this version of events, the autopsy says that Wilson confronted Michael Brown and a companion in the middle of the street. It states that when Wilson ordered the two out of the roadway, Brown became belligerent. At that point Wilson attempted to get out of the vehicle and it says Brown pushed the door shut and began to struggle with Wilson. According to the autopsy report, Wilson then upholstered his weapon and “the weapon was discharged during the struggle.”

The narrative continues that Brown fled at that point, that Wilson gave chase and that at some point Brown turned around and charged at Wilson. The officer then fired off several shots, according to the report.

The narrative concludes with a critical point: “As this is preliminary information it was not know in which order or how many time the officer fired his weapon during the confrontation.” 

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“It’s not surprising at all, to the family, that this St. Louis medical examiner who works with the police every day would say any of this,” said Ben Crump, an attorney for Brown’s family. “[Witness] Dorian Johnson told the family and everyone from day one that there was a brief struggle at the car, that the police officer tried to grab Michael and pull him into the car and that Michael tried to pull away. He says that there were two shots fired. He didn’t know whether or not Michael was hit or not but they both ran.”

“The question that the autopsy does not address and everyone has been asking from day one, is why did the police officer keep shooting as the threat was eliminated, as they were running away,” Crump said.

What the results do not definitely determine one way or another is whether or not Brown had his hands up at the time he was fatally wounded. The narrative of the circumstances that lead to the shooting, detailed in the autopsy, is based on Wilson’s recollection of the events. In it he says that he fired a first shot as Brown was reaching for his gun, which struck Brown’s hand. Forensic examiners interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch say the wound likely means that Brown was not shot with his hands up in surrender as nearly half a dozen witnesses have said.

But if the first shot fired from inside Officer Wilson’s vehicle struck Brown’s hand before Brown fled and before the remaining shots were fired, it would be irrelevant to Brown’s hand positioning as he was the final shots struck his head and upper body.

The wound to the thumb is also consistent with the family’s autopsy released weeks after the killing. The relevance of that wound also offers a couple of possible scenarios. Wilson said he fired off that first shot, which struck Brown’s hand, as Brown reached for his gun. It would also seem plausible that the wound came during the struggle at Wilson’s car window, as a defensive wound, as Brown may have attempted to shield himself from the weapon or as Wilson asserts, as Brown reached for his weapon.

Crump said the details regarding the wound Brown suffered to his thumb, which the medical examiner’s report says was suffered at close range, does not say much about what happened after that first shot, which is critical to the family’s case.

“It doesn’t say anything about what happened after they ran away. And so, it is very clear that nobody has the answer as to why the police officer continued to shoot once they ran away,” Crump said.“It’s the police version, which the family believes is very self-serving, and the version of seven independent witnesses who all say that his hands were up.”

The Post-Dispatch has not disclosed how reporters acquired the autopsy, which was reviewed by experts not involved directly in the case. The St. Louis County Medical Examiner's office said by law, autopsy results may not be released to the public until the investigation and trial into the killing are complete. 

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Wilson, who is white, fatally shot Brown on Aug. 9. The grand jury, which has been hearing evidence since Aug. 20, is considering charges against Wilson. Last week, The New York Times reported that Wilson told investigators he was pinned to his vehicle and was in fear for his life as he struggled over his gun with Brown. The officer hasn’t spoken publicly since Brown’s death.

On Wednesday, the Post-Dispatch reported that the officer told investigators that Brown pressed the barrel of Wilson's gun against the policeman's hip. Wilson attempted to prevent Brown from reaching the trigger, and when he thought he had control, he fired. But Brown's hand had been blocking the object.

Earlier this week, police arrested Missouri state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed during a protest in the suburb, where unrest continues as residents await the detainment of Wilson. She had joined her fellow residents in a gathering outside of the Ferguson Police Department, where officers requested the demonstrators refrain from entering the street, or risk arrest. Protesters want Wilson arrested immediately.