There is a lot of complaining about how Mr. Brown’s body was left lying in the street for four hours after he was shot and killed by Officer Wilson. During the 22 years that I spent as a paramedic and firefighter before retirement, I was present for more than a few homicide investigations. Vehicular homicide, arson with homicide, shootings, and many other scenes involving dead people, all of them have one thing in common:
The police only have one chance to gather all of the evidence that they will ever get. At a crime scene, the police must map out and measure everything. They then have to collect every scrap of evidence from blood spatter to empty casings from expended ammunition, and that includes the body. All of this must be done flawlessly, and once the police leave the crime scene, the collecting of evidence is over.
What you see on TV shows like CSI, where the investigator returns to the crime scene hours, or even days, later and finds that crucial piece of evidence just can’t happen, and this is why: Any defense attorney, even one fresh out of law school, will say “I object to the introduction of this evidence. It was collected from a the scene HOURS after police left. How can anyone be certain that this evidence wasn’t placed there after the police left the scene?” and then the judge will agree, and the evidence will never be seen by the jury.
I once responded to a vehicle fire in a Wal Mart parking lot as the company officer (supervisor) of a heavy rescue squad. When the engine company put out the fire, they found the vehicle to contain a handgun, 2- 20 pound propane tanks, a case of road flares, 50 pounds of black powder, 3 five gallon cans of gasoline, and 40 pounds of a homemade explosive that was later determined to be ANFO (edited to add:) in addition to a dead body. (end edit). They called for the squad because of the hazardous materials, and because the police would need to disassemble the car to collect evidence.
I spent over ten hours at that scene. We used hydraulic tools to cut the car apart, and had to stop every time we made a cut, so the evidence collection guys could take pictures. The scene was so meticulous that we had to give the police samples of our hydraulic fluid and our fingerprints, so that they could document the entire scene. We didn’t even remove the body from the car until nearly 8 hours had passed since the fire was extinguished.
Claining that a body at a crime scene should be immediately covered is wrong, and the NY cop that said that is either lying or a fool. When you are dealing with evidence, everything must be documented before you move or touch ANYTHING. What if that sheet you cover the body in has a hair on it from another crime scene? What if the sheet drags away a shell casing? Soaks up some blood? The crime scene has now been irrevocably altered.
So to those who think that it was wrong to leave Brown’s body there for four hours: Had this case gone to trial, the evidence collected during those four hours would have been needed at that trial. That is just the way our court system works: we require evidence to convict people of crimes, not just feelings and assumptions. Shame on the press for not clearing this up. Your job is to educate and inform, not to inflame tensions and cause unrest. The riots of this week are as much your fault as they are anyone else’s.