Nation

Unorthodox forensic practices shown in Ferguson documents

An undated evidence photograph made available by the St. Louis County prosecutors office of Darren Wilson.
EPA/ST. LOUIS COUNTY PROCECUTORS OFFICE/HANDOUT
An undated evidence photograph made available by the St. Louis County prosecutors office of Darren Wilson.

When Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson left the scene of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, the officer returned to the police station unescorted, washed blood off his hands and placed his recently fired pistol into an evidence bag himself.

Such seemingly unorthodox forensic practices emerged from the voluminous testimony released in the aftermath of a grand jury decision Monday night not to indict Wilson.

The transcript showed that local officers who interviewed Wilson immediately after the shooting did not tape the conversations and sometimes conducted them with other police personnel present. An investigator with the St. Louis County Medical Examiner’s office testified that he opted not to take measurements at the crime scene.

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‘‘I got there, it was self-explanatory what happened,’’ said the investigator, whose name was not released, in his grand jury testimony. ‘‘Somebody shot somebody. There was no question as to any distances or anything of that nature at the time I was there.’’

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The investigator, described as a 25-year veteran, did not take his own photographs at the scene of the shooting because his camera battery was dead, he said. Instead, he relied on photographs shot by the St. Louis County Police Department.

The medical examiner and Ferguson Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

When Wilson returned to the police department after the shooting, he was permitted to drive by himself. No one photographed his bloodied hands before he washed up at the station because ‘‘there was no photographer available.’’

Later, injuries to Wilson’s head caused by punches he said were thrown by Brown were photographed by a local detective at the Fraternal Order of Police building, not at police headquarters.

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An FBI agent interviewed by the grand jury said he did tape his interview with Wilson. The agent, who was not identified, said Wilson washed up immediately after the shooting because he was worried about the danger presented by some one else’s blood, not about preserving evidence.

‘‘His concern was not of evidence, but as a biohazard or what possible blood hazards it might attract,’’ said the agent, who like other witnesses was not identified by name.

At the crime scene, the medical examiner did not see stippling, the residue of gunpowder on clothing that can indicate shots fired at close range. Eventually an autopsy found evidence of stippling.

In the extended interviews, prosecutors do not come across as particularly aggressive or curious. But they do question police procedures on a couple of occasions, including the failure by Ferguson and St. Louis County investigators to tape their interviews with the officer after the shooting.

Why not tape these answers? a detective with St. Louis County was asked. ‘‘It is just common practice that we do not,’’ the detective said.

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Prosecutors also asked why Wilson was permitted to handle evidence in the case himself. ‘‘He had informed me that after he responded to the police station, he had packaged his weapon and then he directed my attention to an evidence envelope,’’ said the St. Louis County detective. Is it customary for the person who was involved in such an incident ‘‘to handle and package their own gun as evidence?’’ the detective was asked.

Not according to the rules of the St. Louis County Police Department, the detective said. But Ferguson may have had its own rules, the detective said. He was not aware of ‘‘any policies or procedures they have in place’’ on the topic.

‘‘Darren Wilson had told me that he had packaged the weapon and it was currently in that evidence bag,’’ the detective told the grand jury. ‘‘Now, at that point in time I never checked to verify that, it was done later,’’ the detective said.

The accounts occasionally revealed inconsistencies. For example, two investigators who interviewed Wilson immediately after the incident said Wilson told them only one shot was fired by Wilson from inside the Chevy Tahoe police cruiser.

But in his testimony, Wilson said two shots were fired inside the car, among several misfires.

The shots and misfires preceded the fatal shooting of Brown on the street a few moments later. The shots were fired from the car after Wilson said Brown had reached in to the vehicle, swinging at the officer and grabbing for his pistol.

Wilson described Brown as having the intimidating size of ‘‘Hulk Hogan.’’ At one point, he said, Brown pushed his pistol down toward the floor, eventually forcing the firearm into the officer’s thigh. Wilson said Brown appeared to be trying to squeeze the trigger. Eventually, Wilson described getting free of Brown’s grip and raising his weapon toward his attacker. The first attempts by Wilson to get off a round at his attacker failed, he said, as the gun only clicked without firing a bullet.

Wilson ultimately said he fired two shots inside the vehicle. After one shot fired he noticed shattered glass and saw blood on his hand, an indication, he said, that Brown had been hit.

However, a Ferguson police officer and a detective with the St. Louis County Police said that Wilson told them only one shot was fired inside the car. The two officers — one a 38-year veteran of the Ferguson police force and the other a county detective — were among the first to talk with Wilson after the fatal shooting. Wilson and the other officers said the weapon failed to fire multiple times inside the vehicle.