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Autopsy: Man killed by police after Katrina was shot in back

  • Story Highlights
  • Autopsy report obtained by CNN shows New Orleans man shot in back
  • Police have maintained officer shot man in self-defense
  • District attorney says shooting has been ruled justifiable homicide
  • Man's family has filed lawsuit against New Orleans Police Department
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From Drew Griffin and Jim Polk
CNN
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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- A man killed by New Orleans police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was shot in the back, according to an autopsy report CNN obtained.

That autopsy finding seems to raise questions about the police department's conclusion that its officer fired only because his life was in danger.

Danny Brumfield, 45, was shot outside the New Orleans Convention Center in the early hours of September 2, 2005, after he stepped in front of a patrol car. He wound up on the car's hood with shears or scissors in his hand.

Police said the officer fired in self-defense. District Attorney Eddie Jordan has closed out any criminal investigation, and he told CNN the shooting has been ruled a justifiable homicide. Video Watch reactions to the autopsy report »

According to the autopsy report, Brumfield was struck in the back of the left shoulder by a single shotgun blast that entered his body in a "back-to-front" trajectory with "little deviation from top-to-bottom."

When shown those words from the autopsy report, an attorney for Brumfield's family, Robert Jenkins, questioned the official police report that said the officer in the passenger seat of the patrol car fired when Brumfield, lying on the hood, made a stabbing motion at him through his side window.

"It almost means he [the police officer] was standing right behind him when he fired," said Jenkins, who had not seen the autopsy before. "How can he be in the car and shoot somebody in the back?"

The Brumfield autopsy was released to CNN in the past several days after Jordan's office closed out its investigation of the shooting. The family has filed a civil lawsuit against the New Orleans Police Department in regard to the shooting.

The district attorney said the only question raised by the autopsy is "how Mr. Brumfield was shot in the back." Jordan suggested perhaps he was turning or falling off the patrol car at the time.

"I don't believe that autopsy alone is sufficient to create a situation where we would be able to carry our burden of proof," Jordan added.

Brumfield's daughter was sleeping outside the convention center at 2 that September morning when her father either jumped on the hood or was struck by the patrol car. What she remembers supports the police report.

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"When I raised my head, I saw my dad on the hood," Shauntan Brumfield told CNN. "He was holding on. I saw his hand balled up, and he was going down to punch through the glass. I heard the gunshot."

The district attorney said there was no dispute Brumfield had a pair of shears or large scissors in his hand when he wound up on the hood of the car and that the two police officers inside had reason to believe they were endangered.

"We believe in this incident that the police officers were truthful and credible and therefore this was a justifiable homicide," Jordan said.

Brumfield's family said he had shears in his hand because he had been cutting up cardboard boxes to use as makeshift beds for his grandchildren to sleep on, rather than lie on the cold concrete outside the convention center.

The officer who fired the fatal shot, Ronald Mitchell, later was terminated by the police department for what police spokeswoman Sabrina Richardson said was "a domestic violence issue with his wife."

Mitchell has since gone to work as a security guard at a strip club. CNN tried to contact him there, but got no response.

CNN filed a lawsuit against the New Orleans coroner more than a year ago for access to autopsy reports on four people shot and killed by police in the first week after Hurricane Katrina struck.

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In a court hearing, CNN authenticated one initial autopsy report that showed Ronald Madison -- an unarmed, mentally retarded person with no criminal record -- was killed by a shotgun blast to his back, even though the police officer told investigators that Madison had turned and reached in his waistband before that officer opened fire.

The officer, who soon resigned from the force, is charged with first-degree murder in the case. Six other policemen also were charged as a result of a shootout on Danziger Bridge, which came a day after Brumfield was killed. Three of the others were indicted in the killing of a second person on the bridge. All the officers have pleaded innocent and are awaiting trial. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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