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by Peter Moskos

October 23, 2014

Those pesky facts

What if everything you thought about Michael Brown was wrong? Do you believe in evidence? Science? Evolution? Global warming? Can new evidence change your opinion? Is your conviction that a police officer killed an innocent surrendering black youth in Ferguson, Missouri, so strong that facts and evidence simply do not matter?

Might you accept that there are racial injustices in the world in general -- and perhaps in Ferguson in particular -- while also understanding that perhaps the police officer in this case actually acted properly? Just maybe? The Atlantic says:
A new report on Michael Brown's official autopsy results appears to support Officer Darren Wilson's version of the events on August 9, according to two medical experts.
...
St. Louis medical examiner Dr. Michael Graham told the paper that the autopsy "does support that there was a significant altercation at the car.” The other expert, forensic pathologist Judy Melinek, went even further, saying that the wound on Brown's hand "supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun" and adding that another shot, which went through Brown's forearm, means Brown could not have facing Wilson with his hands up when he was shot, an apparent contradiction of the now iconic "hands up, don't shoot" posture adopted by protesters in Ferguson.
...
These recent leaks are meant to prime the public for an inevitable result: a grand jury investigation that ends with no charges being filed against Wilson.
This is no way changes my belief that the police response to the protests was both tactically horrible and way over-the-top.

22 comments:

Kyle said...

As someone who has to deal with ignoring facts in my own household, how do we deal with an entire culture (not excluding our society at culture) that will assume a narrative and not budge even given facts? It seems you see this everywhere, especially anytime something polarizing such as race COULD be involved. Politicians seem to do this all the time as well.

Dave- IL said...

This evidence certainly indicates that the struggle started at the squad. But it does not explain what happened between the squad and the spot where Brown actually fell and died (some thirty feet from the car if I recall correctly).

If the close quarters struggle was over, could Wilson have holstered his weapon and moved to an intermediate weapon to complete the arrest, especially considering the fact that Brown was already injured? My concern all along has been that Wilson became enraged, ran Brown down and kept shooting even as Brown moved away from him, not only killing Brown but endangering anyone in the area.

My concerns aside, I concur that some people are so emotionally invested in the whole "gentle giant" versus racist cop narrative that they don't care about evidence at this point. Unfortunately, they just want to get "one of them" because they got "one of us." This case reveals the problem with the enemy-seeking tendency we have as humans.

PCM said...

It's possible. We'll probably never know. But certain the original narrative (racist cop executes surrendering black male) doesn't seem to be true. And it seems more and more possible that the cop was simply doing his job. Maybe correctly. Maybe not. But we'll never know for sure, so people fill in their own ideologically based narrative, facts be damned.

I just wish we could address the very real racial and societal issues that do need to be addressed without spinning it on fiction and crucifying a cop who may very well be innocent.

Dave- IL said...

Well said, PCM. The silver lining here is that discussion of militarization and police-community relations is becoming a mainstream discussion, not just a topic for activists. In spite of the ugly aspects of this incident, it may be the case that pushes police towards real transformation in the US.

bacchys said...

There's a lot of spin with this report. Reading it, it supports either what Wilson has *reportedly* said (we've had no official or public statement) has happened AND it supports what Johnson and other eyewitnesses have said.

I've not heard of any eyewitness claim there was no struggle at the car. The only difference between the rumours and leaks of what Wilson has said and what other witnesses have said publicly is who started that struggle and how it occurred.

As for the injury to the arm/hand: that could be either because he was reaching for Wilson's gun to seize it or in a defensive attempt to prevent being shot.

The Ferguson PD response to the protests and the hand-picked-by-the-Ferguson-Chief "independent" investigation St. Louis PD Chief stating the day immediately after the shooting that it was "justified" kill any credibility that there is going to be an actual investigation into the facts instead of a concerted effort to shape the facts to fit.

I don't know if Wilson committed a crime that day or not. I'll bet that if he *is* innocent in this shooting he's wishing the Ferguson PD had sprung for lapel cams before this happened.

campbell said...

could Wilson have holstered his weapon and moved to an intermediate weapon to complete the arrest, especially considering the fact that Brown was already injured?

I wouldn't have. Wrestling with a much larger felony suspect for my gun once is one too many and I'm sure not going to risk a second occurrence. Once you've been in a struggle for your sidearm with a robbery suspect you're well into "give up or get shot" territory.

bacchys said...

By all reported accounts Brown had already moved away from him, yet Wilson continued to fire his pistol

David Woycechowsky said...

First off, there is no Darren Wilson's version.

There was an unnamed Ferguson official's sketchy version, but it was not disclosed how the official came by the information.

Later there was "Josie"'s version, which, according to Josie's (no last name given) hearsay came from Darren Wilson. But, who knows if that account really did come from Wilson. Even if so, that account did not talk about Brown bleeding all over the squad car.

Moving past this threshold problem that we got, and still have, no timely "Wilson account" (and bear in mind that this is a HUGE problem we are moving past), the new evidence does not support the "Wilson account." This is because somebody shot in the hand sufficiently to bleed all over the car: (i) are more (not less) likely to surrender; (ii) are less (not more) likely to challenge the shooter to some kind of fight.

What is happening now is predictable hype and white people are falling for it in a predictable way. Some as when Mehserle's lawyers made up the cock and bull story about him thinking he was holding a Taser.*

* FOOTNOTE: there have been cases where officers have, through genuine gross negligence, mistaken a gun for a Taser, but Johannes Mehserle was not one of those cases. We know this because the first thing that a police officer says when she really mistakes her gun for a taser is, "oops, I didn't mean to shoot my gun -- I thought it was a taser." In cases of genuine mistake, the police officer says that right away so that others will believe them later. Police officers making a genuine mistake know instictively to do this. They don't have to be "trained" on it.

campbell said...

By all reported accounts Brown had already moved away from him, yet Wilson continued to fire his pistol

The legal threshold is whether the officer in that instance reasonably believes delayed apprehension of that suspect poses a threat of death or serious injury to that officer or others. If our scenario is a robbery suspect who then assaults and attempts to take the gun of an officer then that officer is legally justified in usually deadly force to prevent that escape. The suspect turning his back isn't some time out from use of force, it just means he gets shot in the back.

Woycechowsky here is a prime example of why cops find these discussions with non cops so frustrating. People with zero experience and training still confidently "know" how suspects attempting to murder a cop respond to injury just as he "knows" how cops react to mistakes under stress.

Horatio Parker said...

Dr Meleniks analysis was distorted by the press.

http://pathologyexpert.blogspot.com/2014/10/forensic-sound-bites-half-truths.html

Frank Serpico has spoken out about police culture and violence.

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/the-police-are-still-out-of-control-112160.html#ixzz3H5aYpr6p



bacchys said...

>>The legal threshold is whether the officer in that instance reasonably believes delayed apprehension of that suspect poses a threat of death or serious injury to that officer or others. If our scenario is a robbery suspect who then assaults and attempts to take the gun of an officer then that officer is legally justified in usually deadly force to prevent that escape. The suspect turning his back isn't some time out from use of force, it just means he gets shot in the back.<<

According to the Ferguson PD chief Wilson didn't know Brown was a robber. He had no reason to believe he was armed.

Wilson is justified to use deadly force simply because he wants to. Brown has to present a reasonable threat to Wilson or to others.

>>Woycechowsky here is a prime example of why cops find these discussions with non cops so frustrating. People with zero experience and training still confidently "know" how suspects attempting to murder a cop respond to injury just as he "knows" how cops react to mistakes under stress.<<

Some of us have experience and training and when we hear this kind of crap from so-called officers it only reinforces the notion that law enforcement is riddled with corruption.

campbell said...

Bacchys, that statement about Wilson not knowing has been wrong for months now.

Are you claiming law enforcement experience? You don't sound like you have it, or at least not much. I'm on the job now for over six but less than ten years in the largest dept. in this state, in a metro area with a 7 figure population. I spent my first five years on the street and am currently in a detective unit that does a lot of street interdiction (not narcs).

David Woycechowsky said...

We don't have a statement from Wilson where Wilson said that Brown was trying to take his gun.

If we had had a sworn statement from Wilson to that effect back in July, then that probably would have headed off a lot of trouble here. If we had had a sworn statement to that effect back in July, I might even have believed it (although I would have wanted to know why Wilson cleared leather in the first place and where the gun was pointing at the time Brown allegedly reached for it).

Really, Wilson should have been arrested the day of the shooting, and then given a decision as to whether he wanted to: (i) tell his story and maybe get bail and maybe even get nolle'd; or (ii) wait for trial and tell his story then.

Because this proper protocol wasn't followed, we got, and are still getting, a heap of trouble.

David Woycechowsky said...

Oh, and let's be clear about something else.

I have read thousands more 4A cases than you have, Campbell.

I have read Garner, start to finish, more times than you have Campbell. I have even read the Alioto brief about the Garner case.

I have read Graham more times than you have, Campbell.

I am not trying to argue here based on the fact that I am well-versed in 4A law, but, if you want to make it into a contest of who has read more 4A cases involving police use of force, or who has spent more time thinking about judicial opinions on police use of force, then, by that standard (again, not my preferred standard), I win the thread.

campbell said...

Really, Wilson should have been arrested the day of the shooting

I don't think you understand criminal law and procedure as well as you think you do. In a case with these circumstances it's very unlikely they would have had solid probable cause to charge Wilson with a crime on the same day of the shooting.

And you are really missing my point if you think I'm trying some "who's read more cases" ploy here. I think reading a bunch of cases has made you think you have a solid grasp of things like how suspects behave in an altercation or how police react under stress. In my opinion a fundamental knowledge and understanding of these things cannot be had solely from reading case law.

David Woycechowsky said...

There was plenty of probable cause. If Wilson were arrested at the scene, his motion to dismiss based on bad arrest would go nowhere.

Furthermore, Brown getting shot in the hand doesn't prove there was an altercation at the car. It is equally consistent with Wilson trying to murder Brown at the car, and Brown trying to defend himself from that by putting his hand on or near the end of the gun that was about to shoot him in the face.

Of course, Wilson hasn't yet told us why his gun was out -- that remains a mystery. Many police holsters are designed to keep guns in unless the policeman wants the gun out so that he can stop a threat or kill somebody.

However, even assuming there was an altercation at the car, as the "Phantom-Wilson-story" would have it, getting shot in that altercation makes it more likely that Brown was giving up. It may not make it impossible for him to decide to counterattack (after he cleared 30 feet), but it makes that possibility marginally less likely. I don't care how many people have attacked Cambell after he shot them -- the fact remains that shot people are likelier to give up the fight than non-shot people. That just isn't something about which there may be reasonable disagreement.

bacchys said...

I have more than 26 years in the military, and a lot of my training has been towards law enforcement activities or related. I've been an INIWIC trainer for over 10 years. I train other soldiers- including MP's- in use of force issues.

It's unlikely Wilson would have been arrested even if the inclination of the Ferguson PD was to charge him with a crime. That so rarely happens with cops for something that happens while on duty I don't think I've ever heard of an instance of it.

There is however more than sufficient evidence to support probable cause to arrest him. To say otherwise is simply laughable. Were Wilson not a cop, even accepting what has been reported as his version of events as completely true it's still quite likely he would have already been arrested.

The only reason he hasn't been arrested yet is he's a cop and cops across the country basically enjoy Stand Your Ground on steroids. That's arguably necessary, but let's not pretend it isn't the case.

David Woycechowsky said...

That so rarely happens with cops for something that happens while on duty I don't think I've ever heard of an instance of it.

This is the closest I have seen:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/15/justice/north-carolina-police-shooting/

Not quite an arrest at the scene, but close

Anonymous said...

PCM, you need to retract this post. The spin on these leaks was egregious and you fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

Anonymous said...

http://youtu.be/CiJbHiQTe2c

CollegeCop said...

-"I don't know if Wilson committed a crime that day or not. I'll bet that if he *is* innocent in this shooting he's wishing the Ferguson PD had sprung for lapel cams before this happened."-

The Campus Police Department I work for gave us body cameras last year, we've had mobil vision dash cams since 2005 (even away from the car and camera, the Mic on our belt would pick up audio no matter where we were on campus).

That dash cam saved me from a sexual assault allegation from a 16 year old girl I found one night crying on a curb in a parking lot in 2006.

After that experience and now that I have a body camera (made by VieVu) I almost don't want to take it off. I'm tempted to take it with me into the shower just in case the shower head looks at me funny :) .

PCM said...

Hee.

Just make sure you shower alone.