Since the August 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, supporters claim the young man had his hands in the air when approached by law enforcement, prompting the now famous rally call, “Hands up, don’t shoot”. However, the official autopsy report seems to support the story that Brown was actually reaching for Officer Darren Wilson’s weapon, opposed to having his hands up.
Experts told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Brown, who was shot at close range, may not have had his hands up as stated by witnesses because products discharged from the barrel of a firearm were discovered in a wound on Brown’s thumb.
According to Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco, the fact that there was gunpowder particulate material in the thumb wound indicates Brown’s hands were down, not raised.
Although Melinek was not involved with the investigation, she agrees the autopsy findings do not support him trying to surrender or flee, as suggested by Brown supporters. Having residue in the thumb wound could only happen if Brown’s hands were near the officer’s gun when it discharged.
Melinek went on to explain that Brown was facing officer Wilson when he was shot in the forehead once, in the chest twice, and in the upper right arm once. The wound to the top of the head, which was immediately fatal, indicates Brown was falling forward or in a lunging position.
The sixth shot that hit Brown’s forearm traveled from the back of the arm to the inner area, meaning his palms could not have been facing Wilson, as reported by some eye witnesses. This trajectory shows that Brown was most likely not in the usual position of surrendering, which includes having hands raised in the air and palms facing toward the officer.
The official autopsy was reviewed in detail by Michael Graham, St. Louis medical examiner who said the results were consistent with Officer Wilson’s claim of there being a struggle with Brown inside the police vehicle, adding the altercation was significant.
The details of Wilson’s account were published in today’s paper, which recounted the officer seeing two men walking down the road, one matching the description of a suspect who had just robbed an area market. In trying to exit his vehicle, Brown slammed the door on Wilson and punched him in the face, to which Wilson drew his gun and a struggle ensued.
Immediately after the shooting, Wilson said he thought the bullet hit Brown in the hand. Also supporting Wilson’s claim was the broken glass from the vehicle’s window, as well as blood on the door, the gun, and Wilson’s own hands. The autopsy confirmed that Brown’s blood was on the gun and both his blood and skin were found in the car, showing a struggle happened in the vehicle.
Even though no stippling was found in the autopsy, which indicates a close-range shot, Graham explained that this does not always happen and in fact when a gun is fired within an inch or so, there is only smoke, no stippling.
Three autopsies were performed on Brown. The official report was not released to the public, just prosecutors but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was able to obtain a copy. The family had a private autopsy done, which for the most part agreed with the official report although it stated that Brown was not shot at close range. The third autopsy was performed by the Justice Department and those details have not yet been released.