The official St. Louis County autopsy report on Michael Brown, who was killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, has been obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. According to the newspaper, two independent forensic experts who looked at the report indicated that the results support Wilson's version of events. But one of the forensic experts quoted in the story has since said that the newspaper presented her remarks without some very important context.
"What happens sometimes is when you get interviewed and you have a long conversation with a journalist, they're going to take things out of context," Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco, told MSNBC on Wednesday evening. "I made it very clear that we only have partial information here. We don't have the scene information. We don't have the police investigation. We don't have all the witness statements. And you can't interpret autopsy findings in a vacuum."
According to the Post-Dispatch, Melinek said that the report indicates that Brown was first shot at close range, and that the initial close-range shot, which hit Brown's thumb, could indicate the teenager was reaching for Wilson's gun. The newspaper quoted Melinek as saying that the autopsy "supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound."
Melinek also told the Post-Dispatch that the autopsy did not support eyewitness reports that Brown was shot while running away from Wilson or with his hands up, due to the apparent trajectory of the bullets. This contradicts the statements of multiple eyewitnesses to the shooting, who say that after a scuffle between the two by Wilson's police car, Brown ran, and then turned and put his hands up before he was shot.
Autopsies don't tell the full story
In her later interview with MSNBC, Melinek acknowledged that an autopsy report wouldn't provide any information for the (at least) six bullets that missed Brown during the shooting, some of which could have been fired while Brown was running away or holding his hands up. Those kinds of details would need to be filled by other sources from a broader investigation.
Melinek also clarified to MSNBC that she didn't know for certain, based on the autopsy alone, whether Brown truly reached for Wilson's gun, although the autopsy does leave that open as a possibility.
"I'm not saying that Brown going for the gun is the only explanation. I'm saying the officer said he was going for the gun and the right thumb wound supports that," she said, according to MSNBC. "I have limited information. It could also be consistent with other scenarios. That's the important thing. That's why the witnesses need to speak to the grand jury and the grand jury needs to hear all the unbiased testimony and compare those statements to the physical evidence."
Following the Brown shooting, demonstrators took to the streets of Ferguson to protest what many saw as unfair treatment by local police of the St. Louis suburb's majority black community. The protests dwindled during early September, but they picked back up later in the month and throughout October as concerns remained unaddressed.
The autopsy commissioned by Brown's family found Wilson shot Brown at least six times from the front, and two of the bullets struck Brown on the head. Forensic expert Michael Baden concluded in that independent autopsy report that none of the shots that hit Brown appeared to come from close range. Federal investigators also conducted an autopsy, but they have not released the results.
Update: This post was updated to include Melinek's recent statements to MSNBC, which clarify the quotes attributed to her in the Post-Dispatch article.