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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Post-Dispatch Deletes Mention of Fingerprints, DNA Evidence from Coverage of Police Shooting

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 10:11 AM

Police responded to a protest last week following the death of Mansur Ball-Bey, who killed by a St. Louis metro officer under disputed circumstances. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Danny Wicentowski
  • Police responded to a protest last week following the death of Mansur Ball-Bey, who killed by a St. Louis metro officer under disputed circumstances.

This morning, eagle-eyed Twitter user @tchop_stl pointed out a curious change in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch coverage of last week's police shooting of Mansur Ball-Bey. Police say the eighteen-year-old pointed a gun before two officers opened fire, killing the teen, and the initial report from the Post-Dispatch included this detail: 
Police sources tell the Post-Dispatch that investigators found fingerprints and DNA on the gun police say Ball-Bey pointed at them, but the results are not yet available. Sources also say a witness has come forward who heard the officers' shots, then saw Ball-Bey throw his weapon before running through a gangway and collapsing in the front yard.

But the paragraph, preserved in a cached version of the story, was deleted without explanation sometime after the article was published. 

@tchop_stl tweeted her confusion about the missing, anonymously sourced paragraph, rightly pointing out that the existence of DNA and fingerprints evidence is hardly a minor detail in this story. Lawyers for Ball-Bey's family insist the teen was not armed when an officer shot him in the back on August 19, following what police say was a raid on a known drug house in the Fountain Park neighborhood. The existence of such evidence could add clarity to a police shooting that's already the target of multiple investigations and intense public scrutiny. 

This wouldn't be the first the time Post-Dispatch ran into problems with relying on "police sources."

When Dorian Johnson, a witness to Michael Brown's death last year, was arrested in May during a block party, the Post-Dispatch initially cited unnamed police sources to report that Johnson was suspected of possessing a drink containing "cough medication mixed with what police believe to be an illegal narcotic." 

When the drink was tested in a lab, however, no drugs were found

Another example can be found in the newspaper's coverage of the November arrests of two local members of the New Black Panther Party. When the Post-Dispatch broke the news, the article cited "sources close to the investigation" to describe how the two men used a girlfriend's Electronic Benefit Transfer card to buy pipe bombs.

A followup story also mentioned the welfare-funded pipe bomb plot, but the item disappeared from the Post-Dispatch's later coverage. In June, we asked U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan about the matter, and he said the "sources close to the investigation" were not from his office and that the details about the EBT card and girlfriend were flat-out false

As with the Ball-Bey article, no corrections were added to either story to acknowledge that the anonymously sourced police info wasn't true. 

We've reached out to the two Post-Dispatch reporters bylined on the Ball-Bey story, Christine Byers and Jesse Bogan. We'll update the story if/when we hear back. 

Update, 10:30 a.m.: @tchop_stl informs us that livestreamer Heather De Mian was actually the first to notice the Post-Dispatch's editing of the Ball-Bey story. 

Update, Wednesday 7 p.m.: The Post-Dispatch has issued a response to our story, defending its reporting. It's online here.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at

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