WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday ordered a separate federal autopsy of a Missouri teen whose fatal shooting by a police officer prompted more than a week of racially charged demonstrations and clashes with local authorities.
Citing the "extraordinary'' nature of the case, Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon said Holder directed the action at the request of the family of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man shot by white Ferguson, Mo., Officer Darren Wilson.
"This independent examination will take place as soon as possible,'' Fallon said in written statement. "Even after it is complete, Justice Department officials still plan to take the state-performed autopsy into account in the course of their separate investigation.''
Late Sunday, The New York Times reported that a private autopsy requested by Brown's family found that he was shot at least six times, including four times in the right arm and twice in the head. All of the shots, the Times reported, were fired from Brown's front — a finding that could contradict a witness statement indicating that Brown was hit as he ran away from police.
Dr. Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who performed the autopsy, said one of the shots appeared to have struck Brown on the top of his head, but that it wasn't immediately clear what that signified. "It can be because he's giving up, or because he's charging forward at the officer," Baden said.
The St. Louis County Medical Examiner's autopsy concluded that Brown died of gunshot wounds, but other details have not been released.
Brown was unarmed when Wilson shot him. Witnesses in the area say Brown had raised his hands to surrender when he was shot. Police have not confirmed that
Holder's action underscores the chasm between local authorities, who are leading the investigation into Brown's death, and many in the predominately black community who have expressed little confidence in the local investigation.
The Justice Department is conducting a separate inquiry into possible civil rights violations, related to the shooting. About 40 FBI agents had been deployed to the investigation at the start to assist in canvassing the local neighborhoods for witnesses.
FBI agents also have joined local authorities in some witness interviews related to Brown's shooting after those witnesses expressed doubts about the integrity of the local inquiry, a federal law enforcement official said Saturday.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the joint interviews have involved few witnesses so far. But the concerns echo themes from waves of protesters during the past week who have cited a broken trust with local police.