Monday 29 December 2014

US teenager shooting officer named

Published 15/08/2014 | 06:15

Captain Ron Johnson of Missouri State Highway Patrol addresses protesters in Ferguson (AP/St Louis Post-Dispatch)
Captain Ron Johnson of Missouri State Highway Patrol addresses protesters in Ferguson (AP/St Louis Post-Dispatch)
Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson releases the name of the the officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed black teenager (AP)

A police chief has identified the officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager ignited days of heated protests in a suburb of St Louis.

He also released documents alleging the teen was killed after a robbery in which he was suspected of stealing a 48.99 US dollar (£29) box of cigars.

Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson released several police reports and documents during a news conference where he also identified the officer involved as Darren Wilson, who has been on administrative leave since the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9.

According to the police reports, Mr Brown and his friend, Dorian Johnson, were suspected of taking a box of cigars from a store in Ferguson that morning. Mr Jackson said Mr Wilson, along with other officers, was called to the area after a police call reporting a "strong-arm" robbery just before noon. He said a dispatcher gave a description of the robbery suspect, and Mr Wilson, who had been assisting on another call, was sent to investigate.

Mr Wilson, a six-year veteran of the police department, encountered Mr Brown just after 12.01pm, with a second officer arriving three minutes later, Mr Jackson said.

Mr Brown's death has sparked several days of clashes with furious protesters in the city. The mood was quelled yesterday, after the governor turned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol. State troopers walking side-by-side with thousands of peaceful protesters replaced the county police in riot gear and armored tanks of previous nights.

But the police chief's announcement today was met with immediate disbelief and anger by several dozen community members who also attended the news conference, which was hastily held at a gas station burned during a night of looting earlier in the week.

"He stopped the wrong one, bottom line," yelled Tatinisha Wheeler, a nurse's aide who was at the news conference.

A couple dozen protesters began marching around the area and in the street chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot," and, "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"

Police have said Mr Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer's weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car before the struggle spilled onto the street, where Mr Brown was shot multiple times, according to police.

Mr Johnson has told media very different story. He has said he and Mr Brown were walking in the street when an officer ordered them out of the street, then grabbed his friend's neck and tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He said Mr Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times.

Tensions boiled over after a candlelight vigil Sunday night, as looters smashed and burned businesses in the neighborhood, where police have repeatedly fired tear gas and smoke bombs.

But yesterday, county police in riot gear and armoured tanks gave way to state troopers walking side-by-side with thousands of peaceful protesters. The dramatic shift came after governor Jay Nixon assigned oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol, stripping that authority from the St Louis County Police Department.

"All they did was look at us and shoot tear gas," Pedro Smith, who has participated in the nightly protests. "This is totally different. Now we're being treated with respect."

The more tolerant response came as President Barack Obama spoke publicly for the first time about the shooting - and the subsequent violence that shocked the nation and threatened to tear apart Ferguson, a town of 21,000 that is nearly 70% black and patrolled by a nearly all-white police force.

Mr Obama said there was "no excuse" for violence either against the police or by officers against peaceful protesters.

Mr Nixon's promise to ease the deep racial tensions was swiftly put to the test as demonstrators gathered again yesterday evening. But the latest protests had a light, almost jubilant atmosphere among the racially mixed crowd, more akin to a parade or block party.

The streets were filled with music, free food and even laughter. When darkness fell - the point at which previous protests have grown tense - no uniformed officers were in sight outside the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that had become a flashpoint for stand-offs between police and protesters.

"You can feel it. You can see it," protester Cleo Willis said of the change. "Now it's up to us to ride that feeling."

Mr Nixon appointed Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who is black, to lead the police effort. Capt Johnson, who grew up near Ferguson and commands a region that includes St Louis County, marched alongside protesters yesterday, joined by other high-ranking brass from the Highway Patrol as well as the county department. The marchers also had a police escort.

"We're here to serve and protect," Capt Johnson said. "We're not here to instil fear."

Attorney General Eric Holder has said federal investigators have interviewed witnesses to the shooting.

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