Man charged with shooting officers at Ferguson protest

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Jeffrey Williams This photo provided by the St. Louis County Police Department on Sunday, March 15, 2015 shows Jeffrey Williams. Williams, 20, is charged with two counts of first-degree assault, one count of firing a weapon from a vehicle and three counts of armed criminal action in connection with the shooting of two police officers who were keeping watch over a demonstration outside the Ferguson Police Department on March 12. (AP Photo/St. Louis County Police Department)

CLAYTON, Missouri  — A 20-year-old man charged Sunday with shooting two police officers watching over a demonstration outside the Ferguson Police Department told investigators he wasn’t targeting the officers, officials said.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said Jeffrey Williams told authorities he was firing at someone with whom he was in a dispute.

“We’re not sure we completely buy that part of it,” McCulloch said, adding that there might have been other people in the vehicle with Williams.

Williams is charged with two counts of first-degree assault, one count of firing a weapon from a vehicle and three counts of armed criminal action. McCulloch said the investigation is ongoing.

Tensions between police and the black community have been high in Ferguson since the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, by now-former police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. Wilson was cleared by a Justice Department report, and a grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November.

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The incident sparked a nationwide discussion about police relations with minority communities.

The two officers were shot early Thursday as a crowd began to break up after a late-night demonstration that unfolded after Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson resigned in the wake of the scathing Justice Department report.

The federal report found widespread racial bias in the city’s policing and in a municipal court system driven by profit extracted from mostly black and low-income residents. Six Ferguson officials, including Jackson, have resigned or been fired since the report was released March 4.

On Thursday, a 41-year-old St. Louis County officer was shot in the right shoulder, the bullet exiting through his back. A 32-year-old officer from Webster Groves was wearing a riot helmet with the face shield up. He was shot in the right cheek, just below the eye, and the bullet lodged behind his ear.

The officers were released from the hospital later Thursday. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said Sunday that “officers were getting better, not getting worse.”

McCulloch said Williams used a handgun that matches the shell casings found at the scene.

Williams, who Belmar said is black, is being held on $300,000 bond. County police spokesman Brian Schellman said he didn’t know whether Williams had an attorney or when he’d appear in court. A message left at the St. Louis County Justice Center was not immediately returned.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Sunday that the arrest “sends a clear message that acts of violence against our law enforcement personnel will never be tolerated.”

Several activists who’ve been involved in the protests since the Brown’s shooting told The Associated Press they were not familiar with Williams.

Online state court records show a man by the name of Jeffrey Williams at the address police provided Sunday was charged in 2013 with receiving stolen property and fraudulent use of a credit/debit device.

Story compiled with information from The Associated Press.