News Column

Ferguson Protesters Take to Street Despite Tear Gas, Police Threats

August 14, 2014

Tim O'Neil, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Aug. 14--Shortly after 9 p.m., police dispensed teargas at the crowd standing on West Florissant Avenue. About 50 demonstrators stood in the middle of the street near the Quik Trip, with several hundred people on the side streets.

Popping noises and ear-piercing sonic noises came from the police lines as the crowd backed up. One young woman screams to fleeing members of the crowd not to be cowards. "We have to stand and fight here right now!" she screamed.

But the tear gas cleared a panicking crowd entirely.

Wesley Lowery, a reporter with the Washington Post, was arrested Wednesday evening along with Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, Lowery relayed on Twitter.

He wrote that police came into the McDonald's on West Florissant Road where the two were working, and tried "to kick everyone out."

"Officers decided we weren't leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn't have been taping them," he tweeted.

"Officers slammed me into a fountain soda machine because I was confused about which door they were asking me to walk out of," he wrote.

He said that he was detained, booked, "given answers to no questions. Then just let out."

Reilly tweeted that a SWAT team invaded the McDonalds where he was working and recharging his phone, and asked for identification when he took a photo. They tried to kick everyone out, he wrote. He wrote that he was "assaulted" by an officer.

--Paul Hampel, 9:20 p.m.

Protesters, police again facing off in Ferguson

A march down West Florissant Avenue from Chambers Road ended at the corner of Canfield Drive, not far from where Michael Brown was shot.

A crowd of about 100 people congregated at the corner. They were surrounded on three sides by police who were keeping their distance.

Many were calmly repeating the now-familiar chant, "No justice, no peace."

Among them, a group of about seven young men were angrily yelling and demanding that police officials release the name of the police officer who shot Michael Brown.

Later three armored vehicles approached the crowd, which had been largely quiet and peaceful. Some members of the crowd grew agitated.

One of the armored trucks had a St. Louis County police officer on top of it with a long rifle on a tripod.

The two other trucks arrived with about 6 officers in military fatigues hanging off the sides of both armored vehicles. The officers got off the trucks and were on the street. They appeared to be carrying rifles.

A police official said they brought in the armored vehicles because the crowd was supposed to disperse at 5:30 p.m. to open up the road to traffic.

A line of 20 St. Louis County and Ferguson police officers faced an agitated crowd as the 6 o'clock hour neared.

Police at one point conferred with the Rev. Rev. Spencer Lamar Booker of St. Paul AME Church, the organizer of the clergy-led parade, where demonstrators have been gathering throughout the day.

The conversation ended with Booker announcing "the parade is over. Let's all move on now."

It proved easier said than done as the crowd hurled insults at officers .

One young man shouted, "We're not dogs, so what the hell you've got those whipping sticks for? Because you want to whip us like dogs."

A huge man in a muscle t-shirt, jeans and a Ralph Lauren cap pointed a finger at an officer and warned, "If I'm going to go, I'm taking one of you with me."

A St. Louis County tactical operations armored vehicle blocked the intersection horizontally at that very moment. Police protected by body armor sat atop the vehicle and methodically fit 40-caliber automatic weapons into tripods and trained them on crowd.

"You are being ordered to leave now!" an officer annunced through a public address system. "If you don't leave peacefully there will be arrests."

The crowd initially ignored the demand but later began to disperse.

- Koran Addo and Paul Hampel, 6 p.m.

Ferguson-Florissant cancels first two days of school

The Ferguson-Florissant school district has cancelled school for Thursday and Friday in response to ongoing unrest in the community.

"In order to allow additional time for the situation to stabilize and for all of our students and their families to resume normal routines, we will reschedule the first day of school for Monday, August 18," a news release states. "We believe that this change will help ensure a strong start to the new school year."

- Jessica Bock, 6:15 p.m.

Teen in critical condition after being shot by police near Ferguson site; charged Wednesday afternoon

Prosecutors filed felony charges late this afternoon against a man shot by police in a confrontation earlier in the day.

Esrail Britton, 19, was charged with second-degree assault on a law enforcement officer and armed criminal action. He remained hospitalized in critical condition after surgery Wednesday morning, and officers had not been able to talk to him by Wednesday evening.

Officials said Britton lives in the 2000 block of Sun Valley Drive in St. Louis County.

The shooting occurred about 1 a.m. at West Florissant Avenue near Chambers Road.

County Police Chief Jon Belmar said his officers responded to a report of four or five men with masks and shotguns in an area where shots were heard.

Belmar said in a 6:30 p.m. press conference that as officers were looking for those men, they encountered Britton, who was shot several times as he pointed a handgun at an officer. A 9mm pistol was recovered at the scene. The other men got away.

The officer, on the force for seven years, has been put on administrative leave, which is routine. Asked if the shooting was justified, Belmar said it would be subject to reviews by the department and prosecuting attorney but that it appeared the officer was "in imminent fear of his life." He said he thought the investigation would take about a week.

The scene is near an area where violence has broken out at protests over Saturday's shooting by a Ferguson police officer of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown.

Belmar said officials could not determine whether Britton had been among the protesters.

Belmar said that officers from area departments have been assaulted with rocks and bottles, and have even been shot at. Two dozen police cars have been damaged and the estimate to repair the vehicles runs into the tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

"I would like to remind the public that a police officer's job is difficult in the best of circumstances, but given the emotional and tense circumstances of the last five days, their job has become exponentially more challenging. I am proud of the professionalism and poise of not only this officer, but all of my officers."

He added: "The bottom line is I have lived in fear ever since Saturday afternoon for something like what happened last night," he said, referring to the officer-involved shooting. "I think it's remarkable it hasn't happened sooner, for the amount of gunfire we have been experiencing."

-Valerie Schremp Hahn, Kim Bell and Joel Currier updated 6:30 p.m.

Volunteers clean up Ferguson after protests and looting

On the fourth morning after Michael Brown's death, residents from different parts of the city came together in Ferguson, trying to pick up the pieces.

Some young, some old. The majority arrived as part of the faithful, others trickled in after spotting volunteers marching up and down West Florissant under the hot sun. Carrying brooms and large garbage bags, they collected whatever they could find: rubber bullets, broken glass, liquor bottles, tear gas grenades. Read more here.

-Lilly Fowler, 7 p.m.

Prosecutor: Review will take time

Prosecutors will take as much time as necessary to review the facts surrounding the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown before presenting the case to a grand jury, said St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch.

"The timeline on this is there is no timeline," McCulloch told reporters today at a news conference. "We will do this expeditiously as possible. But we won't rush."

McCulloch answered numerous questions about the investigation. He stressed the evidence will be taken to a grand jury. McCulloch also referenced efforts to coordinate with a parallel federal civil rights investigation. He said his office has had several meetings with the U.S. Attorney's office and FBI to "make sure that we're on the same page, we're not falling all over each other."

Evidence gathered in the state case will likely be presented to the grand jury in more than one session, McCulloch said. If an indictment is returned, McCulloch said, all of the evidence will be "potentially be made public" through the course of any subsequent prosecution. If the grand jury determines that there will be no indictment, McCulloch said, all of the assembled information will be made public immediately.

"I know that's not the answer anybody wants to hear at this point," he said. "Everybody wants to know what happened."

McCulloch said the problem is two-fold. First, McCulloch said, ethical rules prevent prosecutors from disseminating the physical evidence before the case. Second, McCulloch said he won't do anything to corrupt the integriry of the investigation.

In response to a reporter's question, McCulloch said it will certainly take more than two weeks to complete the investigation. He offered no specific estimate of the timetable. He cited a heavy volume of information that is being gathered in the case.

"We want to test the veracity and accuracy of anybody who comes to us," McCulloch said.

McCulloch said a lot of information has come forward through social media, "some of it good, some of it bad."

He stressed that the medical examiner's report, 911 tapes and other investigative material will be withheld at this point.

McCulloch asked anyone with information to get in touch with county or federal authorities.

- Ken Leiser, 5:15 p.m.

ACLU, National Bar Association seek police reports

Both the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Bar Association filed open records request for police reports of the Michael Brown shooting incident. The ACLU, which asked for initial incident reports from Ferguson and St. Louis County police, has not received a response from Ferguson but was turned down by the county, ACLU Legal Director Tony Rothert said.

ACLU Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said that one of the issues surrounding the shooting is the community's lack of trust in how police shootings are investigated. "And we think that starting off by denying the public the right to a document we're entitled to is not the way to begin a difficult time."

- Robert Patrick, 5:30 p.m.

Body released to family

Authorities released Michael Brown's body to his family on Wednesday. Funeral arrangements were pending at the Austin A. Layne Mortuary.

-Michael Sorkin, 5 p.m.

QuikTrip site continues to draw protesters

Sharon Golliday Wednesday afternoon implored the young men gathered on the sun-baked parking lot of the burned out Ferguson QuikTrip to leave the premises by evening.

"I don't want to see any of you hurt," said Golliday, a self-described "peace mother" from the Bethesda Temple Church in Ferguson. "I don't want to see any of you go to jail. Please leave by 7:30 -- that's the right thing to do. Don't give the police the satisfaction of making yourselves targets tonight."

The young men listened politely while simultaneously rejecting her plea.

-Paul Hampel, 5:45 p.m.

Ferguson chief says police are working with the Justice Department on race relations in city

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said today that his department is working with the U.S. Department of Justice community relations office on race relations in the community.

"We have always had real good relations with all of the neighborhood associations," Jackson told reporters during a wide-ranging news conference in Ferguson addressing the shooting of Michael Brown by an officer on Saturday. "Apparently, there's been this undertow that now has bubbled to the surface, and it's our first priority to address it, to fix what's wrong."

Representatives of the department will be meeting as soon as Thursday with Brown's mother. Ferguson police are working with the Department of Justice and the NAACP to arrange that, Jackson said. He did not elaborate.

Some have complained about how long Brown's body was in the street. Jackson said Brown's body was left on the street to make sure the investigation wasn't compromised. He did not say exactly how long it was before Brown's body was removed.

"You only get one chance at that crime scene," Jackson said. "We wanted to make sure we got it right."

He said shots were fired from a nearby building several times while investigators were working, slowing the investigation.

"Now we have to make sure the crime scene investigators are safe," he said.

He said Brown's body was covered when possible. That's been another point of dispute on social media and among protesters.

Jackson said the officer who shot Brown suffered facial injuries and was taken to a hospital. He didn't address how the injuries occurred. He said he's aware of no video of the encounter between the unnamed officer and Brown.

Jackson said his officers use the Sig Sauer .40 caliber handgun, Jackson said.

With regard to the racial makeup of the Ferguson police department, Jackson said he has worked to improve the diversity of the police department, adding it is a "constant struggle to hire and retain personnel." In the past few years, Jackson said, he has tried not only to recruit but improve quality of life in the department, including pay levels, to retain officers longer.

Jackson repeatedly denied that a curfew is in effect in Ferguson, but agreed with city officials who implored demonstrators to maintain peaceful protests and to gather during daylight hours. He opened by telling reporters that there would be a peaceful march at 4 p.m. The march will start at Chambers Road and West Florissant Avenue and head to Canfield Drive, near where Brown was shot.

"There are some people that come out and after dark it does get a little dangerous," Jackson said. "So we think it is better for peaceful demonstrations to occur during the daylight."

He said most protesters are peaceful but some people have turned to violence late at night.

Jackson said there's no curfew in effect but that the department is asking people not to protest at night because of what he said was a greater potential for danger.

"We're just asking that the protests be peaceful," Jackson said. "We understand the anger. We understand the people want answers. We understand that we've got a problem. But we're just asking people to be peaceful, and that we are actively working to resolve this situation to get truth and get justice."

Jackson said the department is still reviewing requests for 911 tapes of the incident. The tapes have to be downloaded and reviewed by attorneys.

He apologized for the amount of time it is taking to process the request for the emergency tapes.

Jackson said officers from other cities are guarding the homes of his officers because of concerns about their safety amid threats.

- Joel Currier, 4 p.m.

Man who says he witnessed Michael Brown shooting speaking to police

A young man who said he was there when a Ferguson police officer fatally shot Michael Brown was talking to authorities Wednesday afternoon.

Dorian Johnson, 22, has repeatedly told media since Saturday that the officer instigated the confrontation by ordering them to "get the F on the sidewalk" and by grabbing Brown, 18, in the throat. Johnson has refuted the statement by St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar that Brown reached in the car and struggled for the officer's gun.

Johnson's statement is significant to what the public has heard about the case. Because he says he was walking with Brown in the street on Saturday, and encountered the police officer together with Brown, he would be the closest eyewitness to the shooting.

Johnson's lawyer, Freeman Bosley Jr., the former mayor of St. Louis, said this morning he was on his way to pick up his client to talk to the FBI and to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch. St. Louis County Police spokesman Brian Schellman said this afternoon that Johnson was being interviewed.

Bosley has said that police initially did not want to talk to Johnson.

Schellman said police had made several efforts to talk to Johnson, but that Bosley had not returned their calls, and that officers could not find Johnson at his home.

"Obviously we're not avoiding this guy," he said. "This is the guy we have to talk to."

- Jeremy Kohler, 4 p.m.

Officer who shot Michael Brown has retained attorney

The officer who shot Michael Brown has retained a lawyer.

- Robert Patrick, 2:45 p.m.

Federal officials say investigation will be "thorough and complete"

Federal officials have launched a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, according to a joint statement issued today by Richard Callahan, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, William Woods, FBI special-agent-in-charge in St. Louis, and Molly Moran, acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division.

Those offices will work with local authorities who are investigating whether there were state law violations.

"While the investigation will be handled as expeditiously as possible, our pledge to the community is that it will be a thorough and complete investigation," the officials said in a prepared statement.

Callahan, Moran and Woods urged witnesses or those with information who have not yet come forward to contact the St. Louis FBI office at 314-589-2500.

- Ken Leiser, 4 p.m.

Daytime-only rallies and protests please, Ferguson says

Ferguson city leaders are trying to stem the riots by urging anyone who wants to protest the shooting death of Michael Brown to assemble only during daylight hours.

Mayor James Knowles III and the Ferguson City Council posted the request on the city website, following several nights of unrest.

The announcement says the city mourns the loss of Brown and wants to give people an opportunity to "voice frustrations through prayer vigils and peaceful protests."

It goes on to say: "We ask that any groups wishing to assemble in prayer or in protest do so only during daylight hours in an organized and respectful manner." Participants should disperse well before the evening hours, the city says.

"Unfortunately, those who wish to co-opt peaceful protests and turn them into violent demonstrations have been able to do so over the past several days during the evening hours," the city says. "These events are not indicative of the City of Ferguson and its residents."

The city leaders' post says Ferguson has been through tough situations before -- "albeit nothing to this magnitude, but will continue to display resilience and fortitude."

-Kim Bell, noon

Surveillance of St. Louis shoe store looting released; gas station also hit

St. Louis police have released video of the looting of a Shoe Carnival store in a shopping center on Gravois Avenue in St. Louis shortly before midnight Monday.

St. Louis police also are investigating a break-in at a Phillips 66 gas station and convenience store in Lafayette Square early Tuesday.

Police are asking anyone with information to call CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-8477.

- Ken Leiser, 1:30 p.m.

Chief keeping officer's name secret because of threats

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson on Wednesday morning explained his thinking in keeping secret the name of the officer who fatally shot Michael Brown on Saturday.

Jackson said he is not releasing the officer's name, primarily for the officer's safety and the safety of the rest of Jackson's department.

Jackson says he is concerned about online activist group Anonymous' threats Tuesday to release personal information about Ferguson officers -- and, now, Florissant police officers, as well.

- Steve Giegerich at 10:10 a.m.

Tim O'Neil is a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Contact him at 314-340-8132 or toneil@post-dispatch.com

___

(c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Source: (c)2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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