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Ferguson Protests Grow Tense Once Again, as Leaks Multiply and Questions Pile Up

A series of leaks in the high-profile investigation of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s killing of Mike Brown has fueled renewed anger.
Photo via Claire Ward/VICE News

Tensions between protesters and police grew once again in St. Louis last night, as demonstrators knocked over barricades outside the Ferguson Police Department, protesting a series of leaks in the high-profile investigation of Darren Wilson's killing of Mike Brown, and demanding the officer's indictment.

Five people were detained, including a legal observer who said he was walking back to his car. Police said they made some of the arrests after some protesters threw water bottles and other objects at them.


The protests in St. Louis have hardly ceased since a "weekend of resistance" earlier this month, which built on the momentum of this summer's unrest. Daily rallies have been planned, and a stream of protesters has picketed the Ferguson Police Department almost every night this month.

But Wednesday night's protest was larger than those of the last few days — about 200 people, by police estimates — a manifestation of people's frustration at a number of leaks to the press, which many in Ferguson have taken as a sign that the investigation into what happened on Canfield Drive on August 9 is not valid and that an indictment of Officer Wilson is unlikely. The police presence was also much larger than usual, protesters noted.

Look at how many cops there are. — deray mckesson (@deray)October 23, 2014

Over the loudspeaker, the police say we can't block the street. NO ONE IS IN THE STREET RIGHT NOW. — deray mckesson (@deray)October 23, 2014

Late on Tuesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published the leaked official autopsy report performed by the county's medical examiner on Brown, and suggested it backed Wilson's account of a confrontation in the car. The Post-Dispatch and the New York Times also published reports citing unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, who recounted Wilson's detailed testimony on the incident.

Then, on Wednesday, the Washington Post cited unnamed sources familiar with the investigation as saying that "more than a half-dozen unnamed black witnesses have provided testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury that largely supports Wilson's account of events."


Skepticism remains as leaked Mike Brown autopsy supports police account of shooting. Read more here.

The leaks and lack of transparency have infuriated protesters, but also drew the condemnation of the Department of Justice, which is running its own independent investigation into the shooting, as well as a separate investigation into possible civil rights violations in the practices of the Ferguson Police Department.

DOJ officials said attorney general Eric Holder — who traveled to Ferguson in August and met with officials there — was "exasperated" at the "selective flow of information coming out of Missouri."

"The department considers the selective release of information in this investigation to be irresponsible and highly troubling," Dena Iverson, a spokesperson for the department, told VICE News. "Since the release of the convenience store footage there seems to be an inappropriate effort to influence public opinion about this case," she added, citing the Ferguson Police Department's decision to release a video implicating Brown in a robbery, despite the incident not being linked to Wilson's encounter with Brown, and after DOJ recommendations that police refrain from releasing the footage.

Asked about the leaks, the office of Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor in the case, denied speculation that it may be behind the leaks.

"Our office does not release and certainly does not leak information on current investigations," a spokesman for McCulloch's office told VICE News. "As I've said in the past, the release of information can have a detrimental effect on that investigation. We will continue to present the Darren Wilson case to the Grand Jury."


There is no evidence to suggest that the leaks might come from the jury itself — which would be a serious breach of its obligations, though allegations that that some jurors violated confidentiality regulations have emerged previously.

Ferguson officials aren't telling you what happened to Mike Brown. Read more here.

In St. Louis, critics of the investigation have also raised concerns about the leaks, noting that details about the investigation have seemingly been released selectively and with "suspect" timing — in direct contrast with records on the incident that should have been made public early on but never were.

"Officer Wilson should have told his side of that story immediately in a detailed police report that should have been made public when the ACLU and other groups requested it through open-records laws," Chris King, managing editor of the St. Louis American, a weekly publication serving the city's black community, told VICE News on Wednesday. "We need to hear from Wilson, not a reporter who listened to somebody who listened to somebody who listened to Wilson."

"These leaks fuel the belief held by too many citizens that the system will defend the officer no matter what, and everybody is in on it," Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman and a regular presence at the protests, tweeted today. "This case needed to be handled in a way that helped restore people's faith in the process. It has not."


French and many others in Ferguson have called on Missouri's governor Jay Nixon to nominate a special prosecutor for the case and demanded McCulloch's removal.

Autopsy Questions
Meanwhile, the release of Brown's official autopsy by the St. Louis Post Dispatch raised more questions than it answered. Several people challenged the paper's conclusion that the autopsy supported Wilson's claim that Brown had reached for his gun during an altercation in his car.

Judy Melinek, a California-based forensic pathologist to whom the paper attributes much of its interpretation of the report, told MSNBC that her words were partially taken out of context.

"I made it very clear that we only have partial information here," she told the network's Lawrence O'Donnell. "We don't have scene information, we don't have the police investigation, and we don't have all the witness statements. And you can't interpret autopsy findings in a vacuum."

O'Donnell pushed her to refute the paper's conclusions — which she resisted, despite acknowledging that there was no evidence in the autopsy to indicate whether Brown's hands were up or down when he was being shot at.

"I can't just come up with an answer off the top of my head because that would be unprofessional," she told O'Donnell, when he asked her to speculate on Wilson's position. "I need to be able to analyze it with the data and that's what's important in this case: you have to have the data. We don't have the data from the scene right now, we have just a snippet, which is the autopsy report."


The leaked autopsy initially appeared to contradict some of the conclusions reached after Michael Baden, a private, nationally recognized forensic pathologist contacted by Brown's family, conducted the second of three autopsies on Brown's body, eight days after his death.

But Shawn Parcells, an uncertified forensic expert who assisted Baden during the autopsy, told VICE News that their conclusions, too, had been misconstrued. Baden did not return VICE News' calls, but Parcells said that their independent autopsy matches the official one.

"Everything from the first autopsy matches with what we found at the second autopsy, the only difference is that when we did ours we were not sure if any of the gunshot wounds had happened at close range, because we weren't privy to some of the evidence that obviously the medical examiner's office would have been able to have information on," he said.

"We weren't saying 100 percent for sure they came from a distance, we didn't know that. We just said it appeared that way because we needed to see the first autopsy report, we needed to see the first autopsy photos, the police reports, the x-rays, tox reports and the clothing of the victim. All we have seen today is just the first autopsy report, the other stuff we still haven't seen."

Parcells added that he and Baden plan to release their full report after the grand jury's decision, and after that they will be given a chance to review additional information that's currently sealed.


But he did add that it appeared the official autopsy report had been carried out with knowledge of other elements of the investigation not found on Brown's body.

"My theory is that when they did the first autopsy, a detective of some sort was there and was telling the pathologist the whole background of the case," he said, noting for example that when he performed the autopsy with Baden reports that two shots had been fired inside the car had not yet been confirmed. "He probably shared with him [things] that had not been shared with the public."

The analysis of matter "consistent with" a firearm, which is found in the official report and led some to conclude Brown was indeed reaching for Wilson's gun, was something the unofficial autopsy missed, Parcells said, because he and Baden could not have known to test that tissue for traces of the material invisible to the naked eye — unlike, for instance, stippling patterns found in some close-range wounds, which were not found on Brown's hand.

"I'm sure that came from Officer Wilson's account," Parcells charged. "So the pathologist then takes sections of this gunshot wound to the hand to look at it under the microscope and sees the particular matter consistent with gunshot residue that would come out of a discharged firearm and says, 'Yes, this shows that this gunshot wound happened at close range.' This pathologist didn't take sections of any of the other gunshot wounds to look at them under the microscope, it was only this particular one, so something had to be told to him."


In St. Louis, the torch of the civil rights struggle is passed to a new guard. Read more here.

But neither autopsy offers answers as to the dynamics of the later gunshots — including a fatal one to the forehead.

Brown and Wilson's lawyers did not immediately respond to VICE News' requests for comment on how the autopsy and other testimonies' leaks might affect the ongoing case. But Wilson's attorney denied being behind the leaks, and Benjamin Crump, who represents the Brown family, told reporters that they have "not believed anything the police or this medical examiner has said."

"They have their witnesses. We have seven witnesses that we know about that say the opposite," he said. "The family wanted a jury trial that was transparent, not one done in secrecy, not something that they believe is an attempt to sweep their son's death under the rug."

For Crump, the question is not so much what happened inside the car, but why, after Brown emerged from it, Wilson kept firing.

"After there was no more threat, and (Brown) was running away, why did Officer Darren Wilson keep shooting?" he asked. "That's what this is about. When Michael Brown put his hands up in the air, why does the officer keep shooting?"

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi