The Ethics Train Wreck That Never Stops: Ferguson’s Interim Chief Decides To Re-Write History

Al Eickhoff has been interim police chief in Ferguson since March, when he took over the  department upon after former Chief Tom Jackson’s  resignation. The LA Times recently interviewed him regarding how the Ferguson police handled the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, as well as related issues. In answer to one of the questions, he dropped this:

“We got a lot of negative notoriety and it all stemmed from Michael Brown’s body having to [lie] on the parking lot for 4.5 hours. The reason he was there for so long was because of hostile fire against our officers. We could not get to Michael Brown’s body.”

Wait, what? While there were reports that gunshots were heard during the period after Brown was killed by Officer Wilson, and there have been many explanations regarding why Brown’s body was allowed to lie in the street so long, hostile fire has never been alleged by anyone. Here was the New York Times’s detailed account of those controversial four hours on the subject:

The St. Louis County Police Department, which almost immediately took over the investigation, had officers on the scene quickly, but its homicide detectives were not called until about 40 minutes after the shooting, according to county police logs, and they arrived around 1:30 p.m. It was another hour before an investigator from the medical examiner’s office arrived.

And officials were contending with what they described as “sheer chaos” on Canfield Drive, where bystanders, including at least one of Mr. Brown’s relatives, frequently stepped inside the yellow tape, hindering investigators. Gunshots were heard at the scene, further disrupting the officers’ work.

“Usually they go straight to their jobs,” Officer Brian Schellman, a county police spokesman, said of the detectives who process crime scenes for evidence. “They couldn’t do that right away because there weren’t enough police there to quiet the situation.”

For part of the time, Mr. Brown’s body lay in the open, allowing people to record it on their cellphones. A white sheet was draped over Mr. Brown’s body, but his feet remained exposed and blood could still be seen. The police later shielded the body with a low, six-panel orange partition typically used for car crashes.

Experts in policing said there was no standard for how long a body should remain at a scene, but they expressed surprise at how Mr. Brown’s body had been allowed to remain in public view.

Asked to describe procedures in New York, Gerald Nelson, a chief who commands the patrol forces in much of Brooklyn, said that as soon as emergency medical workers have concluded that a victim is dead, “that body is immediately covered.”

“We make sure we give that body the dignity it deserves,” Chief Nelson said.

St. Louis County police officials acknowledged that they were uncomfortable with the time it took to shield Mr. Brown’s body and have it removed, and that they were mindful of the shocked reaction from residents. But they also defended their work, saying that the time that elapsed in getting detectives to the scene was not out of the ordinary, and that conditions made it unusually difficult to do all that they needed.

“Michael Brown had one more voice after that shooting, and his voice was the detectives’ being able to do a comprehensive job,” said Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County Police Department….

According to police logs, the county police received a report of the shooting at 12:07, and their officers began arriving around 12:15. Videos taken by bystanders show that in the first minutes after Mr. Brown’s death, officers quickly secured the area with yellow tape. In one video, several police cars were on the scene, and officers were standing close to their cars, a distance away from Mr. Brown’s body.

Around 12:10, a paramedic who happened to be nearby on another call approached Mr. Brown’s body, checked for a pulse, and observed the blood and “injuries incompatible with life,” said his supervisor, Chris Cebollero, the chief of emergency medical services at Christian Hospital. He estimated that it had been around 12:15 when a sheet was retrieved from an ambulance and used to cover Mr. Brown…

At one point, Bernard Ewing, Mr. Brown’s uncle, is seen in a video walking up to the police tape and staring at Mr. Brown’s body. Mr. Ewing, 39, ducked under the tape and walked slowly toward the body, prompting one officer to yell, sprint toward him and lead him away.

“I went up to it,” Mr. Ewing recalled in an interview on Thursday. “I seen the body, and I recognized the body. That’s when the dude grabbed me.”

The detectives arrived around 1:30, and an hour later, a forensic investigator, who gathers information for the pathologist who will conduct the autopsy, arrived from the medical examiner’s office, said Suzanne McCune, an administrator in that office.

Mr. Brown’s body had been in the street for more than two hours.

Chief Belmar said that while he was unable to explain why officers had waited to cover Mr. Brown’s body, he said he thought they would have done so sooner if they could have.

As the crowd on Canfield Drive grew, the police, including officers from St. Louis County and Ferguson, tried to restore order. At one point, they called in a Code 1000, an urgent summons to nearby police officers to help bring order to a scene, police officials said.

Even homicide detectives, who do not ordinarily handle such tasks, “were trying to get the scene under control,” said Officer Rick Eckhard, another spokesman for the St. Louis County police.

Sometime around 4 p.m., Mr. Brown’s body, covered in a blue tarp and loaded into a dark vehicle, was transported to the morgue in Berkeley, Mo., about six miles from Canfield Drive, a roughly 15-minute drive.

Mr. Brown’s body was checked into the morgue at 4:37 p.m., more than four and a half hours after he was shot.

There is nothing in the  New York Times  account, which was filed almost a year ago and never contradicted, that suggests that the delay in removing Brown’s body was due to Ferguson officers being placed under “hostile fire.” Nor has that explanation been given before by any Ferguson official or journalist. It is fair to assume that this is because it didn’t happen, wouldn’t you say? Police officers being pinned down and unable to approach the body because of gun fire would have a tendency to be noticed by someone, and to provoke comment. Look at the photo above. Does it look to you like there are or have been shots raining down on the area?

So given a chance to begin building back some trust in the Ferguson community, as the news media and African American communities across the entire country currently accord no credibility to anything police officers say, under oath or not, regarding a fatal encounter with an African American, Ferguson’s current police chief sits down with a major newspaper, in a period of relative calm, and…blatantly lies.



Pointer and Spark: Fred, and great catch, my friend!

Sources: LA Times, NYT, Riverfront Times,

4 thoughts on “The Ethics Train Wreck That Never Stops: Ferguson’s Interim Chief Decides To Re-Write History

  1. Wow.

    I… don’t … I …. but how can someone?

    And no, knee jerkers, this doesn’t change anything about what happened between the Wilson and Brown that day.

  2. Peter Principle?

    I don’t know what I would do in this situation…. Firing him seems like the right answer, but would that make more problems than it would solve?

  3. Do police chiefs have to take an I.Q. test, and only get to keep the job if they score under 75? Or perhaps an MMPI and score over the top on the psychopathology scale? What was this guy thinking. WAS this guy thinking?

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