FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) – Two officers were shot during a protest in front of the Ferguson Police Department early Thursday, authorities said, as demonstrators gathered following the resignation of the embattled police chief of the St. Louis suburb.
A 32-year-old officer from nearby Webster Groves was shot in the face and a 41-year-old officer from St. Louis County was shot in the shoulder, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference. Both were taken to a local hospital, where Belmar said they were conscious. He described their injuries as “serious.”
“I don’t know who did the shooting, to be honest with you,” Belmar said, adding that he could not provide a description of the suspect or gun.
He said his “assumption” was that, based on where the officers were standing and the trajectory of the bullets, “these shots were directed exactly at my officers.”
The shots were fired as protesters had gathered following the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson on Wednesday. He was the sixth employee to resign or be fired after a Justice Department report cleared white former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson of civil rights charges in the shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer.
A separate Justice Department report found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in the city police department.
Jackson oversaw the Ferguson force for nearly five years before the shooting that stirred months of unrest across the St. Louis region and drew global attention to the predominantly black city of 21,000.
Jackson had previously resisted calls by protesters and some of Missouri’s top elected leaders to step down over his handling of Brown’s shooting and the weeks of sometimes-violent protests that followed. He was widely criticized from the outset, both for an aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency’s erratic and infrequent releases of key information.
During a 12-minute news conference, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said Jackson resigned after “a lot of soul-searching” about how the community could heal from the racial unrest stemming from the fatal shooting last summer.
“The chief is the kind of honourable man you don’t have to go to,” Knowles said. “He comes to you when he knows that this is something we have to seriously discuss.”
The acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division released a statement saying the U.S. government remains committed to reaching a “court-enforceable agreement” to address Ferguson’s “unconstitutional practices,” regardless of who’s in charge of the city.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch.