Experts: More facts needed on purported audio recording of Michael Brown shooting

Jason Sickles
Experts: More facts needed on purported audio recording of Michael Brown shooting

Two of the nation’s leading experts on the use of deadly force by the police are warning against overreaction to an audio recording that purportedly captures the sound of the gunshots that killed Michael Brown.

The newly surfaced recording, which has not been publicly verified by investigators, was first broadcast by CNN.

On the 12-second clip, it is possible to hear a series of what appears to be quick pops, followed by a brief pause and then another succession of rapid shots. St. Louis attorney Lopa Blumenthal and her client, who wishes to remain anonymous to the public, took the recording to the FBI on Monday. Blumenthal says she counted 11 shots fired.

“There's that pause, which is what gave me pause, when I first saw it,” Blumenthal told Yahoo News. “It was a pause so there was time to think about it and deliberate. That doesn't mean that I'm saying it helps one side or the other. But I do know that in a 12-second tape, where eight seconds of it is a shooting, a three-second delay is a significant period of time.”

Ron Martinelli and Michael Levine, both longtime criminal justice consultants, told Yahoo News that the audio needs to be authenticated and considered with other evidence before its importance can be evaluated.

“Pauses may or may not be anything of tremendous significance,” said Martinelli, a retired officer and criminologist specializing in police practices. “The answer is: It depends. In the end, this is about a forensic reconciliation of statements and forensic facts and evidence.”

Levine, a retired DEA agent and law enforcement trainer, said that anyone willing to put a value on a recording before it has been corroborated is discrediting themselves.

“If they gave that opinion on a witness stand, they would be chewed up and spit out by any defense attorney, even a defense attorney that got his degree at Sears & Roebuck School of Law,” Levine said.

Blumenthal told Yahoo News that she has no qualms about bringing the recording forward.

“There's no bad evidence, there's just evidence,” Blumenthal said. “It doesn't take sides. It helps lead to where you are going and discover the truth. Every little bit helps.”

The potential new discovery comes to light more than two weeks after Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in broad daylight in the middle of a residential street.

Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson and shooting victim Michael Brown. (Facebook/AP Photo)

The audio was unwittingly captured by a man taping  an online web chat inside his apartment near the shooting scene.

On the recording, the unidentified Ferguson resident is heard complimenting a friend’s looks during a video chat, when two bursts of loud pops erupt in the background.

Blumenthal said her client heard the noise, but paid it no attention because gunshots are common in the neighborhood. The unidenitifed man, she said, had to be persuaded to come forward.

“Even after I talked to them about it, they were very dubious that it had any type of value,” Blumenthal said. “My client nor I are seeking any publicity or attention at all. There's no motivation to say it is what it's not."

Blumenthal said she and her client were interviewed by FBI agents about the recording late Monday.

Federal and state investigators are conducting separate criminal and civil rights investigations into the controversial shooting.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has said Wilson was attempting to tell Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, to stop walking in the middle of the road, when the officer realized that the pair fit the description of suspects being sought in the theft of cigars from a nearby convenience store.

Chief Jackson said a scuffle ensued after the teen struck Wilson in the face and that a shot was fired inside the officer’s squad car as Brown attempted to grab the officer’s gun. But Johnson has told reporters that it was Wilson who was the aggressor, and that Brown never went for the weapon. Instead, Johnson says, the officer shot his friend while Brown was trying to flee but had stopped and put his hands up in surrender.

Wilson, 28, is on paid leave and has not spoken publicly about the shooting.

Blumenthal said her client gave a copy of the recording to federal investigators.

“(The FBI) thought this would be an important piece of the investigation,” she told CNN.

An FBI spokesperson declined to address the issue of the recording when contacted by Yahoo News on Tuesday.

FBI audio engineers are reportedly planning to analyze the recording for authenticity.

Mark O’Mara, the Florida attorney who successfully defended shooting suspect George Zimmerman, told CNN that while it may be too early judge the audio’s significance, the scientific review could unearth new evidence.

“I look forward to hearing if that tape has Mike Brown’s or Darren Wilson’s voice on it saying stop,” O’Mara said.

Diagram of wounds identified during an independent autopsy commissioned by Michael Brown's family.

Separate autopsies performed on Brown revealed that he was struck at least six times, including by what was likely a fatal shot to the top of his head. Authorities have not disclosed how many times Wilson fired his weapon.

Veteran forensic audio expert Paul Ginsberg listened to the recording on Tuesday.

“The gunshots are unmistakable," Ginsberg told Yahoo News.

By Ginsberg’s count, he said, there are 10 shots on the recording, but he said he could understand why an untrained ear might hear more.

“I can confidently say that I heard at least 10 shots,” said Ginsberg, who has worked on such major investigations as the Sandy Hook school shooting. “I'm hearing six shots, followed by very close to three seconds of pause, followed by four more shots.”

Messages sent to Ferguson police seeking information on the type of service weapon that it assigns to officers went unanswered on Tuesday. Levine said officers across the country commonly carry semi-automatic pistols with a capacity of 15 to 17 bullets.

Any potential pause in Wilson’s shooting would have to be weighed against statements given to investigators, Levine said.

Levine said the pause “would raise an alarm if I had qualified witness statements and the officer’s statement that conflicts with that.” He added, “But I don’t know what this officer’s official statement is here. I don’t think anyone does.”

(This story was updated at 8:30 p.m. CT.)

Follow Jason Sickles on Twitter (@jasonsickles).