FERGUSON, Mo. – Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday ordered a federal medical examiner to perform another autopsy on a black Missouri teenager whose fatal shooting by a white police officer has spurred a week of rancorous and sometimes-violent protests in suburban St. Louis.
The extraordinary circumstances surrounding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and a request by Brown’s family members prompted the order, Department of Justice spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
This independent examination will take place as soon as possible, he said. Even after it is complete, Justice Department officials still plan to take the state-performed autopsy into account in the course of their investigation.
As night fell Sunday in Ferguson, another peaceful protest quickly deteriorated after marchers pushed toward one end of a street. Police responded by firing tear gas that sent many of the marchers retreating.
The Justice Department already had deepened its civil rights investigation into the shooting. A day earlier, officials said 40 FBI agents were going door-to-door gathering information in the Ferguson neighborhood where Brown, who was unarmed, was shot to death Aug. 9 in the street.
A federally conducted autopsy more closely focused on entry point of projectiles, defensive wounds and bruises might help that investigation, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the criminal civil rights section of Miami’s U.S. attorney’s office. The move is not that unusual, he added.
The Justice Department’s announcement followed the first night of a state-imposed curfew in Ferguson, which ended with tear gas and seven arrests after police dressed in riot gear used armored vehicles to disperse defiant protesters.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said protesters were not the reason for the police reaction early Sunday after the midnight curfew took effect. He cited a report of people who had broken into a barbecue restaurant and taken to the roof, and a man who flashed a handgun in the street as armored vehicles approached the protesters.
At a Sunday rally, Johnson said he had met members of Brown’s family and the experience brought tears to my eyes and shame to my heart.
When this is over, he told the crowd, I’m going to go in my son’s room. My black son, who wears his pants sagging, who wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms, but that’s my baby.
Johnson added: We all need to thank the Browns for Michael. Because Michael’s going to make it better for our sons to be better black men.
The protests have been going on since Brown’s death heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and the mostly white Ferguson Police Department, leading to several run-ins between police and protesters and prompting Missouri’s governor to put the state highway patrol in charge of security.
Ferguson police waited six days to publicly reveal the name of the officer, then released documents alleging Brown robbed a convenience store shortly before he was killed.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer, Darren Wilson, did not know Brown was a robbery suspect when he encountered him walking in the street with a friend.
Gov. Jay Nixon, who imposed the curfew after declaring a state of emergency, said Sunday on ABC’s This Week he did not know police were going to release video from the store where Brown is alleged to have stolen a $49 box of cigars.
It’s appeared to cast aspersions on a young man that was gunned down in the street. It made emotions raw, Nixon said.
Police have said little about the encounter between Brown and the officer, except to say that it involved a scuffle in which the officer was injured and Brown was shot. Witnesses say the teenager had his hands in the air as the officer fired multiple rounds.
When you’re exhausted, when you’re out of resources, when you’re out of ammunition, you surrender, Brown’s uncle, pastor Charles Ewing, told worshippers during a Sunday sermon at Jennings Mason Temple in Ferguson. He surrendered, and yet he died.