ST. LOUIS – An off-duty police officer fatally shot an 18-year-old man who opened fire during a chase in south St. Louis, sparking loud protests in the area, police said Thursday.
St. Louis Police Chief Col. Sam Dotson said the 32-year-old officer was patrolling the Shaw neighbourhood for a private security company late Wednesday when the shooting happened.
The officer said three men in the street ran away when they spotted him, Dotson told reporters at a news conference early Thursday. The way that one of the men ran – grabbing at his waistband, slightly lopsided – indicated that he was carrying a weapon, so the officer chased him, Dotson said.
The man approached the officer in an aggressive way, an altercation ensued and the man fired at the officer, the police chief said. The officer returned fire and killed him.
Ballistic evidence recovered from the scene indicates that the man fired three rounds at the officer before his weapon jammed, Dotson said, adding that the gun was also recovered.
The officer fired 17 shots, Dotson said. He said he didn’t know how many of those shots hit the suspect or why the officer fired that many shots. The officer was not injured.
“An investigation will decide if the officer’s behaviour was appropriate,” he said at police headquarters.
People who described themselves as relatives of the dead man told The St. Louis Post Dispatch that he was not armed.
Dotson described the officer as a six-year veteran of the St. Louis Police Department, and said the man who was killed was 18 years old and black.
He did not name either man.
Hours after the shooting, a crowd gathered at the scene near the Missouri Botanical Garden. Some shouted “Hands up, don’t shoot” in reference to the fatal shooting in August of an unarmed black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer in nearby Ferguson. That shooting led to weeks of sometimes violent unrest in the St. Louis suburb. Officer Darren Wilson has not been charged in the shooting.
Dotson said some in the crowd Wednesday night shouted obscenities at officers and damaged police cars, but that the officers “showed great restraint.”
He added: “Any police officer use of force certainly will draw attention.”
No demonstrators were arrested and by 1 a.m. Thursday the crowd had largely dispersed.