FERGUSON, Mo. — In the days since an unarmed young black man was fatally shot by a police officer in this northern St. Louis suburb, the selective release of information about the shooting, and especially the anonymity granted the officer, has stoked frustrations in this largely African-American community, where residents describe increasingly tense relations with the police.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson has repeatedly declined to identify the officer, who has been put on administrative leave. But on Wednesday, the chief did offer a new detail about the shooting, which has kindled widespread racial unrest in the five days since.
Chief Jackson said the officer who shot Michael Brown, 18, on Saturday was struck in the face during the encounter and was treated at a hospital. Touching his own cheek, the chief said a side of the officer’s face was swollen from what police have described as a struggle in which Mr. Brown assaulted the officer and tried to take his gun — an account disputed by a witness, a friend of Mr. Brown’s who said his hands were raised when the last of several shots was fired.
Despite persistent and increasingly angry calls from the public to release the officer’s name, Chief Jackson said the officer required protection after numerous death threats had been made.
Computer hackers, saying they were outraged by police conduct, now have also joined the fray. Anonymous, the loosely organized group of international hackers, bragged on Twitter that it had broken into Ferguson’s computer system. It released details about city workers and posted photos of Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County police, who is conducting the investigation into the shooting, as well as his wife, son and daughter. It also posted his address and phone number. The group also threatened to bring down city, county and federal networks if police overreacted to rallies and protests.
On Wednesday night, scores of police officers in riot gear and in armored trucks showed up to disperse protesters who had gathered on the streets near the scene of the shooting. Some officers perched atop the vehicles with their guns trained on the crowds while protesters chanted, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” The police used tear gas on demonstrators, and some protesters said rubber bullets had been fired at them.
Two reporters covering the protests said they were arrested inside a McDonald’s for trespassing and later released without charges or an explanation. The reporters, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post, both said they were handled roughly by the police.
Chief Jackson and St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert P. McCulloch both held news conferences Wednesday to try to allay concerns without divulging the officer’s name or details of the investigation. Mr. McCulloch promised a thorough investigation but refused to say how long it would take. “There is no timeline,” he said. But he added that all the evidence would be made public, whether or not there was an indictment.
Whether to identify an officer in a charged situation such as a shooting has been a continual tug of war around the country, pitting the desire of police departments to protect their own and the demands of victims’ relatives and the public for accountability. “I get why they want to protect him,” said Meko Taylor, 36, of Ferguson, who was at a protest Wednesday. “But the people want answers. When we get answers, things will calm down.”
David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh Law School expert on police misconduct and accountability, said: “Police departments do not welcome disclosure or the input of outsiders. So when you have a problem like this, it’s hardly surprising to see that they are very reluctant to give out information.”
That reflexive, insular stance is increasingly being questioned in the courts, said Merrick Bobb, a Los Angeles-based consultant on police oversight. “What is happening is that in a number of jurisdictions, voluntarily or as a result of a lawsuit, the ability of police to keep the name of the officer secret has been constrained,” he said.
In Missouri, legal groups citing the state’s sunshine law have joined with community leaders to press for information about the officer who shot Mr. Brown. On Tuesday, the Missouri office of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to the Ferguson and St. Louis County police departments requesting unredacted copies of the “incident reports” describing the death of Mr. Brown. Adding to the pressure, the National Bar Association, an organization of African-American lawyers and judges, also filed a records request Wednesday with the Ferguson Police Department.
By law, police departments have three days to comply, but if they choose to keep an officer’s name secret, they could argue that circumstances warrant an exception. Then the petitioning groups would have to file lawsuits.United States - North America - Missouri - St. Louis - Benjamin Crump - Erwin Chemerinsky - Anonymous