Residents’ frustration growing in wake of fatal shooting by cop

Police chief blocks ID, says officer was assaulted by victim

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


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