CNN Hypes Audio Recording of Gunshots

CNN has obtained and published an audio recording of a Ferguson, Missouri man engaged in what sounds like a sex chat with a woman. In the midst of it, you can hear gun shots in the background. These are presumed to be, although CNN says repeatedly that it has not verified the recording, the sounds of Officer Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown. Erik Wemple relates the story behind the recording.

Various observers, including CNN’s talking heads, have tried to attach great significance to the audio recording. CNN, promoting the recording as if it were a Blowup-type moment, recruited an audio expert who says he hears ten shots on the recording. I think there are pretty clearly eleven. CNN says that the recording “tells a different story” from Michael Brown’s autopsy, which found that he was shot six times. Beyond that, CNN and other observers have laid great emphasis on the fact that there is a “pause” in the shots. Six are fired, then a couple of seconds go by, and four–or five, as I think–additional shots are heard.

Is there anything especially newsworthy about this recording? I don’t think so. First, it is reasonable to assume that the number of shots fired by Officer Wilson has long been known to investigators. Assuming that he started with a full magazine, as in all probability he would, all you have to do is see how many rounds are left. Further, the idea that the recording somehow conflicts with the autopsy is ridiculous. If Brown was charging (or fleeing from) Officer Wilson, and Wilson fired his gun ten or eleven times, it is reasonable that four or five shots missed, and six didn’t. The number of shots fired is entirely consistent with the number that struck Brown.

How about the pause? Is it significant that Wilson stopped for a couple of seconds before resuming firing (assuming the tape reflects what CNN thinks it does)? I don’t think so. We don’t know, of course, whether the audiotape, or any other evidence, contradicts Officer Wilson’s account, since we haven’t heard Wilson’s side of the story. But, given that all of the bullets struck Brown from the front, it is plausible that Brown charged Wilson and Wilson fired in self-defense. It makes sense that Wilson would fire six rounds, then pause to see whether he had stopped Brown. (It usually takes several bullets to stop an assailant, and we don’t know how many of the first six shots missed.) If Brown resumed charging after a moment or two, Wilson would have continued firing. He only hit Brown with one shot that clearly would have stopped him; that bullet struck Brown in the top of the head, and most likely was the last one Wilson fired.

So the audio recording is consistent with what one would expect to hear if Brown charged Wilson and Wilson acted in self-defense. Whether it differs in any way from the account that Wilson gave to investigators is doubtful–Wilson likely knew how many shots he had fired, and certainly knew that the number would be obvious from an inspection of his pistol–but we can’t know for sure at this point. In short, the audio recording is interesting, but a non-story, at least for now.

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