I have posted in my previous blog various comments and postings of forensic topics related to the events in Ferguson Mo. As of today, no more details have been released by the multiple state and federal agencies having multi jurisdictional control over investigating what REALLY happened between office Darren Wilson and Mike Brown. Expecting to know the truth of these matters may be overly-optimistic. Factors that are obstacles to any valid re-creation of a possible crime scene is my focus for today. I will just list them in no particular order but the first factor is the most common and involves the societal attitudes regarding law enforcement investigations of law enforcement, no matter how “independent” they profess themselves to be.
1. The societal effects and attitudes concerning these high profile forensic investigations.
Following the Twitter feed for #Ferguson has been a revelation regarding how the vacuum of informed forensic knowledge, when combined with minimal disclosure of the shooting scene evidence, leads the public into a veritable swamp of personal theories and opinions.
2. The public’s fall-back proofs principally rely on eye witness reports. The vacuum of information has produced a very hazy atmosphere for both the pro and con supporters regarding the justification for Mike Brown being shot and killed. Current research within the US criminal justice system has placed witness statements on a bright stage of controversy and skepticism since the advent of DNA-based exonerations of convictions tainted by erroneous, mis-leading, and coercive statements involving witness testimony.
The press has been adding-up the number of wits coming forth with declarations about the culpability of both Mike Brown and Darren Wilson at the scene. I would say the number on both sides is about even. That makes the winnowing process, from the investigators’ point of view as to what’s true or false, an arduous and potentially subjective act. The passage of time also befuddles the veracity of statements made significantly after any event. the police try to “nail down” wit statements immediately after any event. The LAPD Chief Charlie Beck recently stated the same with his department’s recent officer-involved shooting.
3. The overwhelming presence of images and videos streaming from Ferguson needing collection and interpretation by legitimate analysts. The public is being inundated and influenced by all of this (add: The Grand Jury and the community’s jury pool). The pre-assessment opinions of media pundits and media experts also makes for pre-judgement bias and more mis-information for public consumption. I am not talking about the peace marching, vandalism and conflicts with police vids and pics. What imaging I have watched of the immediate post-incident scene seems ambiguous and possibly not relevant. I expect the immediate and timely forensic photos taken by police will be more detailed, at high resolution and in focus (I hope). Other physical evidence (shell casings (and other ballistic info), GSR, fingerprints, contact DNA, etc) makes for a long list of additional forensic interpretations in our future.
4. The media and the public’s attitudes and beliefs regarding forensic science. One half of the media topic ranges across the board. In the fiction and entertainment world of forensics, its “Gil Grissom” and others who identify the perp from mere scintillae of physical evidence. In many episodes of this genre, technical methods presented are fictional as well. This is strangely very predominant in the imaging (aka: digital evidence) realm. In the real media world of forensic science, I still see lingering references to the OJ Simpson cases in today’s press and significant forensic science disasters or failings in police managed crime labs (again, see my last blog) The medias’ use of the available autopsy info has portrayed the pathologists having “celebrity” style personas due to their casework. I have to remind everyone that most of those “celebrity-high-profile” cases and trials had opposing experts just as well qualified the one’s we are seeing on CNN, et al. The very latest news on questionable forensic pathology opinions is yesterday’s Washington Post article from Radley Balko about politics involving “forensic” law enforcement and court approved experts.
I would have to say the public views on forensics are very high regarding DNA forensics (the newest and most researched real science in forensics) and consider the other aspects of forensic techniques (not all are “scientific” ) very powerful. Its when there are disputing experts in cases that task juries to decide for themselves which expert to believe. I expect this last scenario to show up if there is a criminal trial (either in federal or state court) against Officer Wilson, or if a civil suit is brought by the Brown family.
5. The “independent” forensic analyses probably are not all “independent.” This has to do with the forensic sequence of overlapping investigations. Some “sharing” of physical evidence has occurred regarding Mike Brown’s remains. It seems Drs. Baden and Parcells “took in consideration” the first autopsy held in MO which some had labeled as “preliminary.” This could be considered a linkage of both procedures. We know nothing at all about the other evidence collected from the scene and how similar”sharing” might occur. As I said above, there is a large vacuum of information on a significant amount of Furguson evidence. This is not good, IMHO.
Update: 2:31 pm PDT
Here we go, the forensic debate on the autopsy experts. Shawn Parcells of the family forensic team gets some serious flack about his credentials. “All in his mind” according to this interview.
This piece calls him a “fraud.”