Snelgrove, Apres Mort

The Boston Globe is reporting the release of autopsy files and police documents surrounding the death of Victoria Snelgrove, a fan killed by a pepper-ball gun after the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

It's been nearly a year since this event, but we're finally moving closer to understanding how Snelgrove died -- and answering the questions incisively posed by Code Blue Blog immediately following the shooting.

In today's Globe: evidence included with the transcript shows that Milien was the only officer in the vicinity with a pellet gun and that he fired two shots in quick succession in her direction, according to investigators.

Milien also said he had no idea that the FN303 pepper-pellet gun could kill someone. "Not in a million years," he said.

But the pepper-spray pellet pierced Snelgrove's left eye, opened a three-quarter-inch hole in the bone behind it, broke into nine pieces, and damaged the right side of her brain, according to an autopsy report. The 21-year-old Emerson College student was pronounced dead at 12:50 p.m. on Oct. 21, nearly 12 hours after she was shot.

The mainstream media is focusing on the police's judgment and use of force:
Conley announced last week that none of the officers will face criminal charges. On Friday, Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole demoted the overall commander that night, James M. Claiborne, from superintendent to captain; suspended two officers who shot fans; and issued written reprimands to two other officers who did not secure evidence after the shootings. Milien accepted a 45-day suspension without pay for using poor judgment and excessive force.

The Washington Post says the suspension is 90 days. The Boston Phoenix wonders why there isn't an inquiry into the coverup.

But I haven't seen an analysis of the mechanism of death. It's just facile for the Globe to say Snelgrove's skull had a hole, brain tissue was damaged, and she died twelve hours later -- there should be more, especially given the "nonlethal" billing of the pepperball gun, the literature on the these weapons, and what we know about traumatic brain injury.

CBB and I shared a spirited exchange on this subject last fall. His drew on his experience and knowledge of physiology. And some literature. I countered with my own lit review and some math.

We were the only ones asking these questions, let alone proposing answers.

Perhaps, from the public policy standpoint, the mechanism of death is now just an academic exercise. These "nonlethal" guns kill, and that ought to be the end of their use.

But the way Snelgrove died will undoubtedly come up in the Snelgrove's lawsuit against the makers of the FN-303 pepperball gun:
The letter sent to Falk by the Snelgroves' attorney, Patrick T. Jones, disputes that contention, saying that in its marketing material, FN Herstal suggested that the projectiles would break apart when they hit someone, which Jones argued led Boston police to believe the "projectiles are safe and contributed to an attitude by the shooters . . . that they could not cause any serious injury."

...After Snelgrove's death, the department pulled the weapons from service. Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole announced yesterday that the department will not use the guns again.

In his letter to FN Herstal, Jones alleges that the fact that pepper pellets fired from the guns penetrated the head of Snelgrove and two other victims proves that "fragmentation either does not always occur on impact or that the penetration of the skin can occur in some cases even with fragmentation."

..."As marketed, designed and sold, the product actually increased the likelihood of injury to innocent bystanders," Jones wrote. "As a result of these breaches, Victoria Snelgrove suffered severe injuries and death.

If the autopsy is, in fact, available, there might be some qualified medical reportage later week. We'll see -- in the meantime, eleven months have passed. Since Snelgrove's death, the FN303 has been barred from use by the Boston Police, and its future in US crowd control is very much in doubt.

Code Blue Blog's author, radiologist Thomas Boyle, MD, hasn't posted in five months. After the Snelgrove death, he went on to make increasingly bold but well-researched claims -- like that Ukrainian PM Yuschenko wasn't poisoned, or that Bill Clinton was sick. During the Terri Schiavo controversy, he criticized neurologists for over-interpreting individual head CT slices. Code Blue Blog became, briefly, the most heavily trafficked medical blog, and Boyle explained his views on TV and radio.

His conclusions and presentation style rubbed many the wrong way, but you had to do your homework before you disagreed with Code Blue Blog. And if reporters and interviewers took a cue from his pointed, reasonable questions, we'd enjoy a higher level of journalism in this country. Of all the voices in the media and blogosphere, his is one I'd like to listen to, again.