This post is part of a series, “Challenging Accepted Narratives on Mike Brown and Notions of Justice,” which reexamines and challenges the publicly accepted narrative surrounding Mike Brown’s death. The series illustrates that what most people accepted as the truth, was simply not so. You can read the introduction to the series here.
Darren Wilson asserted again and again that Mike Brown attempted to grab his gun. Even though Wilson killed Brown by shooting him in the head 153 feet away from his SUV (so whether he grabbed Wilson’s gun didn’t warrant killing him), the claim largely convinced the public that Wilson’s actions were justified, and that Mike Brown deserved to die.
Lies and Truths
Not long after Brown was killed, the mainstream media falsely claimed that evidence proved Brown grabbed Wilson’s gun in his SUV. It was delivered with a few half-truths that said witnesses who were black corroborated Wilson’s account. That was all it took for America’s mostly white public to forever believe that Wilson’s story was proven to be true.
The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that Dr. Judy Melinek, a forensic pathologist in San Francisco, said an autopsy performed on Brown “supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound” and “if he has his hand near the gun when it goes off, he’s going for the officer’s gun.” The Washington Post and many other news outlets reproduced this lie and broadly claimed that “evidence supported Wilson’s account,” until it became widely accepted by the public.
Dr. Melinek spoke out about how she was being misquoted and misrepresented, and how the media was reporting that she claimed the autopsy showed things that no one could possibly determine from an autopsy report; however, her rebuttals went largely unreported.
She clarified the misinformation on her personal blog in a post titled “Forensic Sound Bites and Half-Truths.” She wrote, “there’s a big difference between ‘the hand wound has gunpowder particles on microscopic examination, which suggests that it is a close-range wound. That means that Mr. Brown’s hand would have been close to the barrel of the gun’ and ‘he’s going for the gun.’”
During the grand jury proceedings, the three forensic pathologists that testified about Brown’s autopsy said they couldn’t determine from the autopsy and gunshot wound if Brown grabbed the gun or had ever reached for the gun. One said, they cannot tell from the evidence whether Brown was going for the gun or had his hands up to block or whatever else (Grand Jury, Vol. XX, 40). Another said, they can’t say if he was trying to grab the gun or not; “there is nothing based on the images and histology for me to be able to say how the hand was and what he was intending to do, I have no idea” (Grand Jury, Vol. XX, 148). And the third agreed that they couldn’t tell from the autopsy whether Brown’s hand was going forward, pulling back, or remaining still. They could only say that when the gun fired, his hand was roughly four to six inches away (Grand Jury, Vol. XXIII, 41).
The Washington Post later made the vague assertion that seven or eight black witnesses gave testimony that supported Wilson’s account. This was parroted on popular conservative blogs until the public largely accepted it. The truth, however, is that not one witness stated that Brown grabbed Wilson’s gun and there was no physical evidence to support the claim either.
There were not many witnesses close enough to Wilson’s SUV to see if there was a struggle inside over the gun as Wilson claimed. There were only a few witnesses that testified at the grand jury who were considerable favorable to Wilson. They corroborated his claim that Brown charged him. But even these three witnesses (Witnesses 10, 26, and 48) did not confirm that Brown grabbed Wilson’s gun. The only witness who said Brown grabbed the gun was witness 40, who the FBI determined was lying about being at the scene.
Three other witnesses who were close to the SUV testified that they did not see Brown grab the gun, including Dorian Johnson who was next to the SUV and said, “I never at no point in time Big Mike’s hand touch the gun or anything like that.” Another witness who was close to the SUV said, “I don’t think there was a struggle for the gun that I could tell” (Grand jury, Vol. XV, 64).
Fingerprints, DNA, Wilson’s gun, and Mike Brown’s autopsy were all used as evidence in determining whether or not Brown grabbed Wilson’s gun. While such evidence could have shown that Brown did indeed grab Wilson’s gun, it did not do so. There was also significant evidence that disproved Wilson’s version of the story.
Fingerprints and DNA
There was not any fingerprint evidence that Brown grabbed Wilson’s gun. Originally, Wilson told his sergeant, “The individual was trying to grab at his pistol, his pistol came out of the holster” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 31-34), but Brown’s prints were not on Wilson’s duty belt (Grand Jury, Vol. XXIV, 83). Later that day, when interviewed by a St. Louis Police Department detective, Wilson said Brown grabbed the gun after he pointed it at him; however, Wilson’s gun was not checked for fingerprints (Grand Jury, Vol. III, 39-40). A crime scene detective testified that they had to choose between getting “a DNA profile or the possibility of retrieving latent fingerprint evidence” and they chose to get DNA (Grand Jury, Vol. III, 42). However, the DNA analyst that worked on the case sad that they only need a “tiny speck of blood” to get a DNA profile (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 148), so it doesn’t make sense that detectives would not have fingerprinted the gun to prove Brown grabbed it.
The DNA evidence retrieved from the gun did not prove that Brown grabbed the gun. Wilson shot Brown in the hand at the SUV (Grand Jury, Vol. IV, 196-197) and Brown’s blood was found on the inside of the door, on the outside of the SUV, on Wilson’s pants, and on Wilson’s gun – so Brown’s DNA would be on the gun because of his blood anyway (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 136).
There was a reddish brown stain on Wilson’s gun that was assumed to be blood. The DNA swab from Wilson’s gun tested positive for blood. The swab gave analysts a DNA profile where Brown and Wilson are both major contributors (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 180-181); however, analysts testified that there is no way to tell if the DNA on the gun is from Brown touching the gun or from some other fluid such as his blood, sweat, or saliva (Grand Jury, Vol. XIX, 180, 184).
Since Brown’s blood was on the gun from his being shot, his DNA was also inevitably on the gun; thus, there is no evidence that Brown left DNA by grabbing the gun.
Gun misfiring and firing
Wilson claims that Brown attacked him in his Chevy Tahoe SUV. He said Brown “started swinging and punching at [him] from outside the vehicle.” He said, “when [Brown] shut the door a second time … [Brown] enter [the] vehicle with his hands, arms, and his head … assaulting [Wilson]” (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 5). Brown was swinging wildly, and began striking Wilson in the chin, face, shoulders, and chest (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 103).
One of the full swings even knocked Wilson back and stunned him (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 6 and Grand Jury, Vol. V, 103-104). Wilson describes fearfully grabbing Brown’s arm like “a five year old holding on to Hulk Hogan” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 212) and recounts that Brown was “obviously bigger … and stronger” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 216). He told a grand jury that he had to draw his weapon because Brown had already hit him twice in the face and a third punch could knock him out or be “fatal if he hit me right” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 216).
Wilson claimed that his gun didn’t fire several times during his confrontation with Brown at the SUV. He testified that Brown had pushed the gun down into his hip, but he managed to raise it, and with Brown’s hands still on the gun, he pulled the trigger twice, but it didn’t fire (Grand Jury, Vol. V 224). Wilson said the gun fired on the third try, shattering a SUV window and prompting Brown to back up.
According to Wilson, Brown then reengaged, attacking Wilson again. He said that while being hit by Brown and shielding his face, Wilson tried to pull the trigger again and it just clicked, so he put his hands up to shield his face and Brown hit him again. He said, “Without even looking, I just grab the top of my gun, the slide and I racked it, and I put my, still not looking, just holding my hand up, I pull the trigger again, it goes off” a second time (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 225). He said this shot missed, but it caused Brown to take off running.
Moments after Wilson fired his weapon in the SUV, he shot ten rounds at Mike Brown outside. Later, when tested by a firearms expert in the course of the investigation, Wilson’s gun fired normally and had “no defects at all” (Grand Jury, Vol. X, 91-92), which means that some sort of interference would have caused it to allegedly not fire in the SUV.
Wilson provided two conflicting reasons that the gun did not go off. First, Wilson told the St. Louis Police, “I believe his fingers were over in between from the hammer and the slide preventing it from firing” (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 8). Second, in an interview with an FBI agent, he said the reason may have been stovepiping—when the shell casing is not fully ejected and gets pinched in the slide, preventing the new round from reaching the chamber and firing (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 162). This is why Wilson claimed he had to rack his gun—to clear the stuck round.
A detective testified that if there is stovepiping, the malfunction drill is “you have to remove the magazine, lock the slide to the rear, which would remove the stovepipe round and the round that was somewhat forced into the chamber, or the barrel of the gun. You would have to reinsert the magazine and then put the slide forward and that would chamber another round” (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 126-127).
The firearms and tool mark examiner who worked on the case said there was no evidence of stovepiping. They also said it could have happened and they might not be able to tell, but there is no proof (Grand Jury, Vol. X, 110, 112-113).
Additionally, Wilson’s gun was a Sig Sauer .40 caliber pistol. Shell casings eject to the right side of the pistol, and even though Wilson said he racked the gun using both hands (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 9) to clear a casing, no casing was found inside his car. They were found across the street almost straight out of the window, and towards the back end of the SUV (what would be the left side of the gun if it was pointing out the window).
Picture someone holding a pistol in their right hand while sitting in the driver’s seat of an SUV and while being attacked. Logically, if Wilson had to shield himself while racking the gun he would turn or lean into the SUV to help escape from the blows; but for the sake of argument, let’s say his body is twisted, so his torso is facing out the window. The right side of the gun would still be pointed toward the front of the vehicle and most likely inside.
Admittedly, shell casings are very limited in what they prove about the position of a weapon when fired, but it’s difficult to believe that a casing ejected from the chamber on the right side of the weapon flew straight forward across the street or to the left side of the weapon. It seems unlikely that Wilson racked his weapon to clear a round—at the least, the evidence does not support the claim.
Similarly, there was no evidence that Wilson’s gun didn’t fire because Brown was holding it. The medical legal investigator said Brown had abrasions on the back of his left hand and the right side of his face (Grand Jury, Vol. I, 50), but no other marks on his hand otherwise (Grand Jury, Vol. I, 68). They also said the abrasions on the left hand and forehead looked like the came from contact with the ground because “it looked more like a road rash abrasion as opposed to an altercation abrasion” (Grand Jury, Vol. I, 75).
Of course, it’s possible that a person could hold the slide or hammer of a gun and prevent it from firing without injury, but it’s unlikely. According to Wilson, Brown’s hand prevented his gun from firing, yet he had no abrasion, burn, or even a mark on his hand.
Brown was shot in the hand
Wilson fired two rounds in the SUV but only hit Brown once. He says he saw blood after the first shot and missed with the second shot (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis County Police Department, 8-9). He said, “The first thing I remember is seeing glass flying and blood all over my right hand on the back side of my hand” (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis Interview, 8). And when he shot the second time, “I turned and looked, I realized I had missed. I saw, like dust in the background” (Wilson’s interview with St. Louis Interview, 8).
Wilson also claims that Brown had his hands on the gun when Wilson fired the first round (Grand Jury, Vol. V, 224). Not only is it impossible for Wilson to shoot Brown’s hand if his hand was on the top of the gun, but experts testified that Brown wasn’t holding the gun when it was fired. Three experts that performed autopsies confirmed that there was soot around Brown’s gunshot wound, which shows his hand was at close range – between six and twelve inches from the weapon (Grand Jury, Vol. XX, 20; Vol. XXIII, 38; Vol. XX, 139-140).
When asked if there would still be soot around the wound if Brown’s hand was on top of the weapon, a forensic pathologist replied, “The wound is going to look different. Now we are dealing with a contact wound. If you are talking about actually physically holding something, that’s something extra and different” (Grand Jury, Vol. IV, 118). To clarify, if Brown’s hand was on top of the gun when it fired, he would not have been shot in the hand, and if his hand was on the barrel of the gun, the gunshot wound would have looked drastically different. Therefore, the evidence does not support Wilson’s story that Brown grabbed his gun.
Wilson has maintained that Brown grabbed his gun after he pulled it out of the holster and pointed it at him. It seems common when police kill someone to hear them say the suspect looked like they were going for a gun or they were trying to take their weapon. Since there is no video of Brown’s confrontation with Wilson to disprove the claim, people are going to believe what they want. Some will believe Brown grabbed the gun, others won’t; but the fact remains: there is no evidence that Brown grabbed Wilson’s gun.