A man stares into the camera and says, “You are pretty,” but before he can finish the sentence, the pop, pop, pop of gunfire erupts in the background.
Six or seven shots can be heard during that first volley.
Then a three-second pause.
Followed by four more shots.
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The man doesn’t blink and continues recording the video.
The 12-second recording, made on a smartphone with the app Glide, a video messaging service, is believed to have captured Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown to death on Aug. 9.
If authentic, it is the first recording of the shooting that has surfaced. It shows that Wilson fired at least 10 times; a private autopsy said at least six shots struck Brown. The recording also chronicles a pause which over the past 36 hours has been the subject of much speculation.
Some say the pause shows that Wilson shot, had time to think about his actions and then shot again.
Others say it means little.
“Assuming that it’s real, it tells us literally nothing, other than the fact that there was a pause between the series of gunshots,” said David Klinger, a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, an expert on police shootings and a former police officer.
Klinger said officers are trained to shoot, then assess, and if a potential threat remains or resurfaces, to shoot again. Reading anything significant into that brief pause is the “height of absurdity,” he said.
Anthony Gray, a Clayton, Mo., lawyer representing Brown’s mother and father, disagreed.
“It could be very significant,” he said. “This is the first audio that I’ve heard that captures the number of times and succession of shots fired on that day.”
“Several witnesses,” he continued, “describe two distinct deployments of deadly force by this officer.”
And that, Gray said, tends to corroborate that Mike Brown was running away.
The FBI and St. Louis County Police, which are conducting parallel investigations, declined to comment.
The video was recorded by a client of lawyer Lopa Blumenthal. She said he lives in the apartment complex where Brown was killed and captured the shooting while recording a video text message to a friend. The man’s roommate is also a client of hers who told her about the recording last week.
Blumenthal said she knew the recording might be significant to the investigation. So she reached out to the man who made it, and met him in a parking lot on West Florissant Avenue on Saturday night. She said it took a lengthy discussion to convince him to let her represent him and take the recording to the FBI.
Blumenthal said the FBI interviewed her client for about an hour and a half on Monday, and inspected the phone on which he made the recording.
The man who made the recording did not want to be named, Blumenthal said. She said he came forward reluctantly and feared for his safety. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch agreed not to disclose the video portion of the message or the man’s identity.
The audio backs up some witness testimony. Police and some witnesses have said that one shot was fired in the police vehicle. While the recording doesn’t seem to catch that shot, it does portray what some witnesses said happened next.
Michael Brady told CNN that Wilson shot three or four times, then Brown “took like one or two steps” toward Wilson, then Wilson shot three or four more times. Tiffany Mitchell repeatedly said Wilson was shooting as he chased Brown, paused as Brown turned around to face the officer, and then continued shooting until Brown fell down. And Piaget Crenshaw said she knew Wilson fired some rounds that didn’t hit Brown – she watched officers remove a bullet from a neighbor’s outside wall.
But Dorian Johnson, the friend with Brown in the road that day, has consistently said Wilson fired one shot in the car, one shot when he got out of the car, and then fired several more shots “and my friend went down in the fetal position.”
Johnson’s lawyer, Freeman Bosley Jr., suggested that the audio didn’t record the entire shooting.
“There was probably a nice gap between the firing of the first shots and what you are hearing now,” Bosley said.
The shooting has sparked nightly demonstrations and attracted worldwide media attention.
Blumenthal said she thought the recording was important.
“There was a pause,” she said, “and to me a pause means time to think and contemplate.”
Blumenthal acknowledged that the apparent gunfire on the recording never seemed to disturb her client. When she asked him about that detail, he told her that the sound of gunshots in that complex is not unusual and he was concentrating on making the video.
“I’m 100 percent positive this is accurate,” she said. “He is not doing this for the publicity. He has no motivation to lie.”