A man who authorities say opened fire on officers in Ferguson, Missouri, on the one-year anniversary of an unarmed black teen’s death was critically wounded when the officers shot back, St. Louis County’s police chief said early Monday. The county was later declared under a state of emergency.
Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference that officers had been tracking the man, who they believed was armed, during a protest marking the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose killing by a white Ferguson police officer brought greater scrutiny on how police interact with black communities and sparked a national “Black Lives Matter” protest movement.
The anniversary of Brown’s killing has sparked days of renewed protests, though until Sunday they had been peaceful and without any arrests. For the first time in three consecutive nights of demonstrations, some officers were dressed in riot gear, including bullet-proof vests and helmets with shields. Police at one point early Monday shot smoke to disperse a lingering crowd, Belmar said.
The man approached the officers, who were in an unmarked police van, and opened fire, Belmar said. The officers returned fire from inside the vehicle and then pursued the man on foot when he ran.
The man again fired on the officers, the chief said, and all four officers fired back. He was struck and fell.
The man was taken to a hospital, where Belmar said he was in “critical, unstable” condition. Authorities didn’t immediately release the identities of anyone involved, but Tyrone Harris told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the injured man was his son, 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr.
The elder Harris told the newspaper shortly after 3 a.m. that his son had just gotten out of surgery.
None of the officers was seriously injured. All four have been put on standard administrative leave. They were not wearing body cameras, Belmar said.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency, which authorizes the county police to take control of police emergency management in and around Ferguson.
The shooting happened shortly after a separate incident that the chief called “an exchange of gunfire between two groups” rang out around 11:15 p.m. Sunday while protesters were gathered on West Florissant Avenue, a business zone that saw rioting and looting last year after Brown’s killing. The shots sent protesters and reporters running for cover. The chief said an estimated six shooters unleashed a “remarkable” amount of gunfire over about 45 seconds.
Belmar waved off any notion that the people with the weapons were part of the protest.
“They were criminals. They weren’t protesters,” he said.
The man who fired on officers had a semi-automatic 9 mm gun that was stolen last year from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, according to the chief.
“There is a small group of people out there that are intent on making sure that peace doesn’t prevail,” he said. “There are a lot of emotions. I get it. But we can’t sustain this as we move forward.”
Early Monday, another reported shooting drew officers to an apartment building in the area. Two men told police they were targeted in a drive-by shooting near the memorial to Brown outside Canfield Apartments. A 17-year old was shot in the chest and shoulder while a 19-year-old was shot in the chest, but their injuries were not life-threatening, the St. Louis County Police said in a news release.
Separately, police said a 17-year-old male has been charged with unlawful use of a weapon and one count of resisting arrest after he fired shots near the protesters late Sunday. He is being held on $100,000 bond.
Before the gunfire, protesters were blocking traffic and confronting police. One person threw a glass bottle at officers but missed.
One officer was treated for cuts after a rock was thrown at his face, and two officers were pepper-sprayed by protesters, county police spokesman Officer Shawn McGuire said in an email. Five people were arrested, according to records McGuire released.
Several other peaceful events earlier Sunday were held to mark the anniversary.
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., led a march through town. It started at the site where Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November.
Later, a few hundred people turned out at Greater St. Mark Family Church for a service to remember Brown, with his father joining other relatives sitting behind the pulpit.
Organizers of some of the weekend activities pledged a day of civil disobedience on Monday, but have not offered specific details.
Story by the Associated Press
Peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson end in police shootout
CCTV America’s Dave Wagner was live in Ferguson with the very latest.