Police confront protesters at Ferguson store
FERGUSON, Mo. — Anger spurred by the death of a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer boiled over again when protesters stormed into a Missouri convenience store — the same store that Michael Brown was accused of robbing.
Police and about 200 protesters clashed in Ferguson, Missouri, late Friday after another tense day in the St. Louis suburb, a day that included authorities identifying the officer who fatally shot Brown on Aug. 9. At the same news conference in which officer Darren Wilson was named, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released documents alleging that Brown stole a $48.99 box of cigars from the convenience store, then strong-armed a man on his way out.
Just before midnight, some in what had been a large and rowdy but mostly well-behaved crowd broke into that same small store and began looting it, said Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson.
Some in the crowd began throwing rocks and other objects at police, Johnson said. One officer was hurt but details on the injury were not immediately available.
Johnson said police backed off to try and ease the tension. He believes looting may have spread to a couple of nearby stores. No arrests were made.
“We had to evaluate the security of the officers there and also the rioters,” Johnson said. “We just felt it was better to move back.”
Meanwhile, peaceful protesters yelled at the aggressors to stop what they were doing. About a dozen people eventually blocked off the front of the convenience store to help protect it.
Brown’s death had previously ignited four days of clashes with furious protesters. Tensions eased Thursday after Gov. Jay Nixon turned oversight of the protests over to the Missouri Highway Patrol. Gone were the police in riot gear and armored vehicles, replaced by the new patrol commander who personally walked through the streets with demonstrators. But Friday night marked a resurgence of the unrest that had momentarily abated.
Nixon on Thursday appointed Johnson to take over security after concerns were raised about how local police had used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters earlier in the week. Johnson said one tear gas canister was deployed Friday night after the group of rioters became unruly.
Jackson’s decision to spell out the allegations that Brown committed the robbery, and his releasing of surveillance video, angered attorneys for Brown’s family and many in the community, including U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay. Earlier Friday night, the Democratic congressman took a bullhorn and told protesters, “They have attempted to taint the investigation. They are trying to influence a jury pool by the stunt they pulled today.”
Family attorney Daryl Parks acknowledged that the man shown in the surveillance footage “appears to be” Brown. But he and others said Brown’s family was blindsided by the allegations and release of the footage. They said that even if it was Brown, the crime didn’t justify the shooting of a teen after he put up his hands in surrender to the officer, as witnesses allege.
Another family attorney, Benjamin Crump, said police “are choosing to disseminate information that is very strategic to try to help them justify the execution-style” killing, said Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the teenager fatally shot by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was later acquitted of murder.
The surveillance video appears to show a man wearing a ball cap, shorts and white T-shirt grabbing a much shorter man by his shirt near the store’s door. A police report alleges that Brown grabbed the man who had come from behind the store counter and “forcefully pushed him back” into a display rack.
Police said they found evidence of the stolen merchandise on Brown’s body.
Brown’s family and supporters had been pushing for release of the officer’s name. Wilson is a six-year police veteran — two in neighboring Jennings and four in Ferguson — and had no previous complaints filed against him, Jackson said.
The police chief described Wilson as “a gentle, quiet man” who had been “an excellent officer.” Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said it could be weeks before the investigation of the shooting wraps up.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley on Friday asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to take over the case, saying he did not believe McCulloch could be objective. Koster said Missouri law does not allow it unless McCulloch opts out. McCulloch spokesman Ed Magee said McCulloch has no plans to surrender the case.
Also Friday, the Justice Department confirmed in a statement that FBI agents had conducted several interviews with witnesses as part of a civil-rights investigation into Brown’s death. In the days ahead, the agents planned to canvass the neighborhood where the shooting happened, seeking more information, the statement said.