FERGUSON, Missouri — Two officers were shot in Ferguson early Thursday amid protests following the resignation of the police chief in the Missouri city that became a symbol of racial tensions after a white officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.
The county police chief described the attack on the officers as “an ambush” that could easily have killed both men. Police said some suspects had been taken into custody for questioning, but no arrests had been made.
Both officers were released from the hospital Thursday, said St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman.
Before the shooting, some at the protest were chanting to show they weren’t satisfied with the resignations of Jackson and City Manager John Shaw earlier in the week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
A 32-year-old officer was shot in the face and a 41-year-old officer was shot in the shoulder, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference. Both were taken to a hospital, where Belmar said they were conscious, but he described their injuries as “serious.”
“I don’t know who did the shooting, to be honest with you,” Belmar said, adding that he could not provide a description of the suspect or gun.
He said his “assumption” was that, based on where the officers were standing and the trajectory of the bullets, “these shots were directed exactly at my officers.”
The protest was a familiar scene in Ferguson, which saw similar and much larger demonstrations after the shooting death of Michael Brown last summer by city police officer Darren Wilson. When Wilson, who is white, was cleared in November by a state grand jury, the decision set off further protests, looting and fires. Thursday was the first time an officer at a protest had been shot.
Several high-profile deaths of unarmed men and teens by police officers have stirred nationwide calls for greater police accountability.
Protesters in the Atlanta area added their voices to the chorus Wednesday after an unarmed, naked black man was fatally shot by an officer responding to a complaint of a suspicious person at an apartment complex.
After the Ferguson shooting, officers with guns and in riot gear circled the station, and more than a dozen squad cars blocked the street.
In amateur video accessed by the Associated Press, two shots ring out and a man is heard screaming out in pain.
Someone at the scene, unseen and unidentified in the video, says: “Acknowledgement nine months ago would have kept that from happening.”
Marciay Pitchford, 20, was among the protesters. She told the AP that the protest had been mostly peaceful until she heard the shots.
“I saw the officer go down and the other police officers drew their guns while other officers dragged the injured officer away,” Pitchford said. “All of a sudden everybody started running or dropping to the ground.”
Belmar said the shots were fired from across the street from the police department.
Jackson was the sixth employee to resign or be fired after a Justice Department report found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in Ferguson’s police department. A separate Justice Department report released the same day, however, cleared Wilson of civil rights charges in the shooting. Wilson has since resigned.
Mayor James Knowles III announced Wednesday that the city had reached a mutual separation agreement with Jackson that will pay Jackson one year of his nearly $96,000 annual salary and health coverage. Jackson’s resignation becomes effective March 19.
Jackson had previously resisted calls by protesters and some of Missouri’s top elected leaders to step down over his handling of Brown’s shooting and the weeks of protests that followed. He was widely criticized from the outset, both for an aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency’s erratic and infrequent releases of key information.
During a 12-minute news conference, Knowles said Jackson resigned after “a lot of soul-searching” about how the community could heal from the racial unrest stemming from the fatal shooting last summer.
“The chief is the kind of honorable man you don’t have to go to,” Knowles said. “He comes to you when he knows that this is something we have to seriously discuss.”
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
The two police officers who were shot have been released from the hospital, St. Louis County Police Department spokesman Brian Schellman told Reuters on Thursday morning.
Story compiled with information from The Associated Press and Reuters.
Violence against police is unacceptable. Our prayers are with the officers in MO. Path to justice is one all of us must travel together. –bo
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) March 12, 2015
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released this statement on the shooting in Ferguson and what the White House is trying to do to build trust between law enforcement and the public.