More than a dozen law-enforcement agencies have traveled to Ferguson in the last two weeks. Michael Brown’s body has undergone three separate autopsies. Press conferences have numbered many, but the answers they provided few.
The Aug. 9 shooting death of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer has since become a national story about race relations, police militarization, and press freedom. Protests in the St. Louis suburb, once characterized by heavy-handed crowd-control tactics, have cooled in recent days, but people are still taking to the streets, demanding answers.
A grand jury began hearing testimony about the day of the shooting on Wednesday. Nearly two weeks after Brown was killed, here’s what we still don’t know about the day it happened.What happened right before Brown was shot?
The details of the interaction between Brown and the Ferguson police officer who shot him, Darren Wilson, are disputed. Police have said that Brown assaulted Wilson after the officer stopped him for jaywalking on Canfield Drive, a two-lane street. Several eyewitnesses say Brown was shot with his hands up in the air, shouting to the officer that he was unarmed.
This is what happened, according to St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, CNN reports:
The officer tried to leave his vehicle just before the shooting on Saturday afternoon, but Brown pushed him back into the car, “where he physically assaulted the police officer” and struggled over the officer’s weapon, Belmar said.
A shot was fired inside the police car, and Brown was eventually shot about 35 feet away from the vehicle, Belmar said, adding few details because he didn’t want to “prejudice” the case.
This is what happened according to Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, 22, who was there when Brown was shot, as told to MSNBC. It started when Wilson told the pair to “get the f”” onto the sidewalk”:
After telling the officer that they were almost at their destination, Johnson’s house, the two continued walking. But as they did, Johnson says the officer slammed his brakes and threw his truck in reverse, nearly hitting them.
Now, in line with the officer’s driver’s-side door, they could see the officer’s face. They heard him say something to the effect of, “What’d you say?” At the same time, Johnson says the officer attempted to thrust his door open but the door slammed into Brown and bounced closed. Johnson says the officer, with his left hand, grabbed Brown by the neck.
“They’re not wrestling so much as his arm went from his throat to now clenched on his shirt,” Johnson explained of the scene between Brown and the officer. “It’s like tug of war. He’s trying to pull him in. He’s pulling away, that’s when I heard, ‘I’m gonna shoot you.’ “
The officer fired a shot, and Johnson saw blood. The pair took off running. A second shot struck Brown, who went down, turned with his hands up, and said, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting!” The officer fired several more shots, and it was over.
Ferguson police say Wilson sustained “a serious facial injury” as a result of an altercation with Brown right before the shooting. The extent of the injury, alternately described as swelling and a fractured eye socket, remains unknown.How were the shots fired?
Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, according to a private autopsy performed at the request of his family.
One of the bullets struck the top of Brown’s skull, suggesting that his head was bent forward at the time of impact. But Dr. Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for New York City who performed the autopsy, doesn’t know why that is. “It can be because he’s giving up, or because he’s charging forward at the officer,” he told The New York Times.
Baden recovered only three bullets from Brown’s body. The location of the others is not known.
The distance between Brown and Wilson when the shots were fired is also unknown. The autopsy found no gunpowder on Brown’s body, which suggests he was hit from a distance greater than 3 feet. But Baden didn’t have access to the clothes Brown was wearing that day. If gunshot residue was found on Brown’s clothes, that would mean he was shot at close range.
Testing Wilson’s car for gunpowder could also reveal whether the officer fired a shot from inside his vehicle.
One thing about the forensics of Brown’s death is clear. The recent high-school graduate, Baden said, would not have survived the shooting even if he had received medical care right away.Why did Brown’s body remain on the street for hours after his death?
The body remained in the middle of Canfield Drive for more than four hours after the shooting, according to The Washington Post. An officer placed a sheet over it, and cones and barricades were set up in the street. People gathered at the scene, some wondering aloud why police had not yet removed the body.
The body was eventually loaded into a police SUV, rather than an ambulance.
Jackson told The Post he was “uncomfortable” with the length of time Brown’s body remained on the ground. An assessment of the crime scene was delayed, he said, by the sound of several gunshots around 2 p.m., two hours after Brown was shot. The source of the gunshots was never determined.Did Wilson know about the robbery?
Ferguson police say that Brown was the primary suspect in a strong-arm robbery of a convenience store shortly before the shooting. But when the police department released police reports and store surveillance footage of the robbery, its chief, Tom Jackson, said the incident and the shooting were not related. Wilson had been alerted that a robbery had occurred in town, police suggested, but Wilson did not know Brown was a suspect when the officer encountered him, The New York Times reports.
However, Jackson later told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Wilson realized Brown could be the suspect of the robbery when the officer saw the cigars that were reported stolen in Brown’s hand.
So did Wilson know about the robbery or not? And how would that knowledge, or lack thereof, influence Wilson’s perception of Brown, or contribute to the shooting?
Wilson left his home in suburban Crestwood, Mo., after the shooting, and his whereabouts are unknown.