‘Extraordinary circumstances:’ Justice Dept. orders new autopsy on Michael Brown
FERGUSON, Mo. — After another night of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has approved a second autopsy on the body of Michael Brown, the Justice Department said Sunday.
The autopsy will be conducted by a federal medical examiner, Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
“Due to the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case and at the request of the Brown family, Attorney General Holder has instructed Justice Department officials to arrange for an additional autopsy,” the statement said.
“This independent examination will take place as soon as possible. Even after it is complete, Justice Department officials still plan to take the state-performed autopsy into account in the course of their investigation.”
The news out of Washington came after protests that resulted in seven arrests and left one person shot. The shooting occurred just hours after a curfew was imposed to bring calm to a city that’s seen a week of protests and sporadic looting after the police killing of the unarmed 18-year-old Brown.
“I can tell you that I was disappointed in the actions of tonight,” said State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who’s in charge of security for the town.
Police have no information on the shooter, Johnson said, adding that there was a person in the street with a handgun and a police car was shot at.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had a different takeaway, saying that despite the violence and arrests, he was happy overall with authorities’ handling of the unrest. He also thanked community members who he said were helpful in getting the city “through what could have been a very difficult night.”
“Thousands of people marched, and not a single gunshot fired by a member of law enforcement,” the governor said.
A day after Nixon declared a state of emergency and implemented a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew, dozens of protesters — a noticeably younger group than what has been the norm in Ferguson — gathered to express their disagreement by marching and raising their hands in the air. The surrender posture — which some witnesses say Brown was showing when he was killed — has become symbolic of the protests.
Brown was shot to death August 9 by a white police officer as the teen walked down the street. Witnesses say they saw a scuffle between the officer and Brown at the police car before the young man was shot. Authorities have said Brown was trying to get the officer’s gun.
His death has sparked sometimes violent protests and sporadic looting in the past week in the city of 22,000 people near St. Louis.
Early Sunday, police fired smoke canisters on protesters in the first hour of the curfew. After the reports of a shooting victim, police fired tear gas to get to the wounded individual, according to Johnson.
He said authorities clamped down on protesters in response to the shooting, as opposed to the curfew violations.
Earlier, Johnson said law enforcement would not be heavy-handed in enforcing the curfew.
“We won’t enforce it with trucks. We won’t enforce it with tear gas,” he said.
Nixon said Sunday law enforcement was “trying to use the least amount of force to provide people the ability to speak while also protecting the property of the people of Ferguson.”
St. Louis Alderman Antonio French spoke with protesters to try to convince them to abide by the curfew — which he says was a compromise reached between the government and community leaders.
While many heeded French’s advice, a small group of people could not be convinced to stay home.
“Some of the guys didn’t want to be told to leave,” French said. “That’s their right.”
French said he does not believe the use of smoke was disproportionate — although it “definitely burned,” he said.
“I’m committed to making sure the forces of peace and justice prevail,” Nixon said at a community meeting Saturday. “If we’re going to achieve justice, we first must have and maintain peace.”
Nixon said he’d recently spoken to Holder, who had 40 FBI agents working in Ferguson on Saturday to expedite interviews and accelerate the investigation.
“It’s important we get this right,” he said. “This is going to be something that, to get to justice, it has to be transparent justice and has to be thorough justice, and there are a lot of witnesses and a lot of folks concerned about what went down and what justice can be.”
But his meeting at a local church at times was tumultuous.
People repeatedly interrupted the governor, shouting, “You need to charge the police with murder!” and “We want justice!”
Some residents said law enforcement officers had instigated the violence with military-like tactics.
Johnson praised local citizens who tried to stop the looting of several businesses early Saturday.
But at least one resident was skeptical about whether the curfew would work.
“It’s an intimidation thing, and you’re basically suppressing people who still have questions that need answers,” said Carissa McGraw, who has joined protests throughout the week. “You have people who, at this point, do not care what authorities say right now.”
Accounts of exactly what happened when Officer Darren Wilson confronted Brown vary widely. Police said Brown struggled with the officer and reached for his weapon. Several witnesses said Brown raised his hands and was not attacking the officer.
Since then, Ferguson has become a tinder box, with regular street protests, an influx of heavily armed law enforcement officers and intense media coverage.
Saturday, Brown family lawyer Anthony Gray said that Michael Baden would conduct a separate autopsy on the the teenager’s body. Baden is a high-profile pathologist who testified in the O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector and Drew Peterson trials.
However, Gray’s announcement was made before the Justice Department said it would conduct a second autopsy on Brown. It’s not clear if the Baden autopsy will still be performed.
Early Saturday morning, before sunrise, a fragile peace was shattered when looters again targeted neighborhood businesses while law enforcement in riot gear largely looked on without intervening.
Some protesters tried to stop the looting, at times standing in front of one convenience store and preventing others from doing more damage. Police, criticized days earlier for being too aggressive with protesters, now drew the ire of merchants who said they weren’t doing enough.
“You still have a job to do now, and now you’re not doing your job,” Tanya Littleton said of police after thieves broke into her beauty supply shop and made off with bags of hair extensions worth hundreds of dollars.
At noon Saturday — the hour that police say Wilson shot Brown a week earlier — protesters outside the police station silently raised their arms into the air.
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson joined loud-but-peaceful crowds that marched in the street carrying signs saying, “Mike Brown is our son” and “The whole world is watching Ferguson.” They chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Hey hey, ho ho, killer cops have got to go.”
The looting began at the Ferguson Market and Liquor store, which has become part of the case. Minutes before Brown was shot, police say, a man fitting his description allegedly stole cigars and roughed up a store clerk as surveillance cameras recorded.
Ferguson police released surveillance video of that robbery on Friday, but then emphasized that Wilson stopped Brown not because of the theft, but because Brown and a friend were “walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic.”
Release of the video Friday angered some, who say police are using it to distract from Brown’s killing and make him look bad.
As protesters took to the streets early Saturday, more than two dozen people blocked off the convenience store with cars. Police with riot gear, tactical rifles and armored vehicles were nearby, commanding them through loudspeakers to free it up.
Instead, bottles flew, mayhem erupted, and looters ransacked the store, which the owner had boarded up. It was the first of at least three stores raided.