Before you read any further, go look at the drawing accompanying the New Tork Times article on the autopsy of Michael Brown,
There’s a story in that picture. To read it, you have to be familiar with pistol shooting and the kind of pistol self-defense training that cops and amateur sheepdogs like me engage in.
In the remainder of this post I’m going to walk you through the process of extracting the story from the picture.
In case the link I’m using disappears behind a paywall, here are the most salient features of what I see:
- The entry and exit wounds form a nearly linear arc from the crown of the head to the right hand.
- There are no entry or exit wounds on the back.
- On the head, there are two entry wounds at the crown and right eye, and a wound in the jaw which could be entry or exit (it’s unclear in the drawing).
- There is one wound at the base of the neck on the right hand side, drawn to suggest an exit wound.
- There is one wound in the upper right pectoral muscle, drawn like an exit.
- There are three wounds on the right arm. The topmost one is very near the pectoral wound and drawn like an entry. The torn shape of the middle one, on the upper arm, suggests an exit wound (later update: turns out it’s a graze, and the only one that could have been inflicted from the rear). The bottom one, on the forearm, is clearly drawn as an entry wound.
- The wound on the hand is drawn to suggest that the bullet entered there at a shallow angle (more tearing would be shown if it were an exit wound)
The first thing that jumps out at me is that this was not wild, amateurish shooting. Had it been, the distribution of bullet holes would have resembled an irregular blob. The near-linear arrangement suggests a relatively steady hand and a shooter who wasn’t panicked.
It also strongly hints that Brown was not moving sideways when the shots were fired. He was either stationary or moving directly forward or away from Officer Wilson.
We know Wilson is a cop and we know how cops are trained – to aim for the target’s center of mass (COM). But that’s not where the shots landed. What I see here looks like good aim at the COM compromised by a mild case of trigger jerk from a right-handed shooter, pulling the muzzle slightly left from the point of aim.
This is probably the single most common shooting fault there is. I do it myself when I’ve been out of practice; my first target, at 30 feet, is likely to feature a vertical line of holes a few inches left of the X-ring. It’s a very easy mistake to make under fatigue or stress.
The location and angle of the head wounds, and the absence of wounds on the rear surfaces of the body, is also telling. For starters, it tells us that Brown was not shot in the back as some accounts have claimed.
I think the only posture that could produce this wound pattern is for Brown to have been leaning well forward when he was first shot, with his right arm stretched forward (the pair of wounds around the right armpit and the shallow-entry wound in the hand are suggestive of the latter).
I originally thought the head wounds indicated that Officer Wilson was shooting Mozambique drill – double tap to the body followed by a head shot. This is how police trainers teach you to take out a charging assailant who might be high out of his mind. I drill this technique myself, as do most serious self-defense shooters.
Now I think it’s equally possible that Brown began to collapse forward when he took the first bullet or two and his head fell into the path of Wilson’s following shots.
One possibility we can rule out is that Brown was shot while prone on the ground after collapsing. There are no wounds at the right places and angles for this. If he had been shot prone at close range, the angle of the crown wound would be impossible; if he had been shot while prone at some distance the crown wound might just barely possible but we’d also see shallow-angle wounds on the back.
Everything I see here is consistent with the report from an unnamed friend of officer Wilson that Brown charged Wilson and Wilson shot him at very close range, probably while Brown was grabbing for Wilson or the pistol with his right hand.
UPDATE: I failed to make clear that the reason I’m sure Brown was moving is the extreme torso angle suggested by the lack of exit wounds on the back. A human trying to do that standing still would overbalance and fall, which is why I think he was running or lunging when he took the bullets.
UPDATE2: We now have have a bit more information on the report.
“Dr. Baden and I concluded that he was shot at least six times. We’ve got one to the very top of the head, the apex. We’ve got one that entered just above the right eyebrow. We’ve got one that entered the top part of the right arm. We’ve got a graze wound, a superficial graze wound, to the middle part of the right arm. We’ve got a wound that entered the medial aspect of the right arm, and we’ve got a deep graze wound that produced a laceration to the palm of the right hand,” Parcells said while pointing out the location of the wounds on a diagram.
Baden and Parcells concur that the head shots came last, and that the crown wound killed Brown. The middle wound on the arm was not, as I thought from the drawing, an exit; it was a graze. Their description of the hand wound as a graze causing a laceration confirms my reading that the bullet hit the hand at a very low angle – thus, Brown’s hands cannot have been up when he took the shot.