Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager whose death at the hands of police sparked protests around the nation, was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, a preliminary private autopsy performed Sunday found.
One of the bullets entered the top of Brown’s skull, suggesting his head was bent forward when it struck him and caused a fatal injury, according to Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for New York City, who flew to Missouri on Sunday at the family’s request to conduct the separate autopsy. It was likely the last of bullets to hit him, he said.
Brown was also shot four times in the right arm, he said, adding that all the bullets were fired from the front.
The bullets did not appear to have been shot from very close range because no gunshot powder was present on his body. However, that determination could change if it turns out that there is gunshot residue on Brown’s clothing, to which Baden did not have access.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Sunday that the Justice Department would conduct its own autopsy, in addition to the one performed by local officials and this private one because, a department spokesman said, of “the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case and at the request of the Brown family.”
The preliminary autopsy results are the first time that some of the critical information resulting in Brown’s death has been made public. Thousands of protesters demanding information and justice for what was widely viewed as a reckless shooting took to the streets here in rallies that ranged from peaceful to violent.
Brown died last week in a confrontation with a police officer in this suburb of St. Louis. The police department has come under harsh criticism for refusing to clarify the circumstances of the shooting and for responding to protests with military-style operational gear.
“People have been asking: how many times was he shot? This information could have been released on Day One,” Baden said in an interview Sunday after performing the autopsy. “They don’t do that, even as feelings built up among the citizenry that there was a cover-up. We are hoping to alleviate that.”
Baden said three bullets were recovered from Brown’s body, but that he has not yet seen the X-rays showing where they were found, which would clarify the autopsy results. Nor has he had access to witness and police statements.
Baden provided a diagram of the entry wounds, and noted that some of the bullets entered and exited several times, leaving at least five wounds.
“This one here looks like his head was bent downward,” he said, indicating the wound at the very top of Brown’s head. “It can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer.”
He stressed that his information does not assign blame or justify the shooting.
“We need more information; for example the police should be examining the automobile to see if there is gunshot residue in the police car,” he said.
Baden, 80, is a well-known New York-based medical examiner, who is one of only about 400 board-certified forensic pathologists in the nation. He reviewed the autopsies of John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and has performed more than 20,000 autopsies himself.
He is best known for having hosted the HBO show “Autopsy,” but he rankles when he is called a “celebrity medical examiner,” saying that the vast majority of what he does has nothing to do with celebrities.
Baden said that because of the tremendous attention to the case, he waived his $10,000 fee.
Professor Shawn Parcells, a pathologist assistant based in Kansas, assisted Baden.
“You do this for the families,” Parcells said. The two medical experts conducted the four-hour examination Sunday at the Austin A. Layne Mortuary in St. Louis. Benjamin L. Crump, a lawyer for Brown’s family who paid their travel expenses, hired them.
“The sheer number of bullets and the way they were scattered all over his body showed this police officer had a brazen disregard for the very people he was supposed to protect in that community,” Crump said. “We want to make sure people understand what this case is about: this case is about a police officer executing a young unarmed man in broad daylight.”
Baden said he consulted with the St. Louis County medical examiner before conducting the autopsy.
One of the bullets shattered his right eye, traveled through his face, exited his jaw and re-entered his collarbone. The last two shots in the head would have stopped him in his tracks and were likely the last fired.
Brown, he said, would not have survived the shooting even if he had been taken to a hospital right away. The autopsy indicated that he was otherwise healthy.
He said it was quite unusual for the federal government to conduct a third autopsy, but dueling examinations often occur when there is so much distrust of the authorities. The results of the initial autopsy, by St. Louis County, have not yet been released.
He stressed that his examination was not to determine whether the shooting was justified.
“In my capacity as the forensic examiner for the New York State Police, I would say, ‘You’re not supposed to shoot so many times,'” said Baden, who retired from the state police in 2011. “Right now there is too little information to forensically reconstruct the shooting.”
No matter what conclusions can be drawn from Baden’s work, Brown’s death remains marked by shifting and contradictory accounts more than a week after it occurred. The shooting is under investigation by St. Louis County and by the FBI, working with the Justice Department’s civil rights division and Holder’s office.
According to what has emerged so far, on Aug. 9, Brown, along with a companion, Dorian Johnson, were walking in the middle of Canfield Drive, a fistful of cigarillos in Brown’s hand that a videotape showed he stole from a liquor store on West Florissant Avenue.
At 12:01 p.m., they were stopped by Darren Wilson, a police officer, who ordered them off the road and onto the sidewalk, Johnson, who is 22, later said.
The police have said that what happened next was a physical struggle between Brown and Wilson that left Wilson with a swollen face. Johnson and others have said that it was a classic case of racial profiling and police aggression from a white officer toward a black man. Within minutes, Brown, who was unarmed, was dead of gunshot wounds.
The morning after the shooting, Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County police said that Wilson was leaving his police car when Brown “allegedly pushed the police officer back into the car,” where he “physically assaulted the police officer.”
“Within the police car there was a struggle over the officer’s weapon,” Belmar said. “There was at least one shot fired in the car.”
At that point, the police said, Wilson left his vehicle and fatally shot Brown. “More than a few” shell casings were recovered from the scene.
Johnson, who declined to be interviewed, has described the events differently in television interviews. While he and Brown walked, he said, Wilson stopped his vehicle and told them to get on the sidewalk. When they refused, Wilson slammed on his brakes and drove in reverse to get closer.
When the officer opened his door, it hit Brown. With his left hand, Wilson reached out and grabbed Brown by the neck, Johnson said.
“It’s like tug of war,” Johnson said. “He’s trying to pull him in. He’s pulling away, that’s when I heard, ‘I’m gonna shoot you.’”
A neighbor, Tiffany Mitchell, said in an interview with MSNBC that she heard tires squeak, then saw Brown and Wilson “wrestling” through the open car window.
A shot went off from within the car, Johnson said, and the two began to run away from the officer.
According to Mitchell, “The officer gets out of his vehicle,” she said, pursuing Brown, then continued to shoot.
Johnson hid behind a parked car as Brown ran.
“Michael’s body jerks as if he was hit,” Mitchell said, “and then he put his hands up.”
Brown turned, Johnson said, raised his hands, and said, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!”
Another witness, according to the Los Angeles Times, said that Brown threw his hands in the air and shouted, “Don’t shoot!”
Wilson continued to fire and Brown crumpled to the ground, Johnson said.
Within seconds, confusion and horror swept through Canfield Drive. On that Saturday afternoon, dozens of neighbors were at home and rushed out of their apartments when they heard gunshots.
One person who claimed to witness the shooting began posting frantic messages on Twitter, written hastily with shorthand and grammatical errors, only two minutes after Wilson approached Brown. At 12:03 p.m., the person, identified as @TheePharoah, a St. Louis-area rapper, wrote on Twitter, “I JUST SAW SOMEONE DIE OMFG.”