Two police officers were shot and seriously wounded early Thursday outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo. amid protests that followed the resignation of the town’s police chief.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar told a news conference that a 41-year-old officer from St. Louis County was shot in the shoulder at around midnight local time, while a 32-year-old officer from suburban Webster Groves was shot in the face. Both victims were taken to a local hospital. Belmar said both men were conscious, but had no further word about their condition except to describe the injuries as “very serious.”
Belmar said that at least three shots were fired and were believed to come from a house across the street from the police department.
“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 shooting was first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Marciay Pitchford, 20, was among the protesters outside the police department. He told The Associated Press the protest had been mostly peaceful until he heard the shots ring out.
“I saw the officer go down and the other police officers drew their guns while other officers dragged the injured officer away,” Pitchford said. “All of a sudden everybody started running or dropping to the ground,” he said.
Belmar said that some officers had begun to leave the area due to the lack of activity prior to the shooting.
“I’ve said many times we cannot sustain this [unrest] without problems and that’s not a reflection of those expressing their First Amendment rights,” Belmar told the Post-Dispatch. “But this is a very dangerous environment for our officers to work in.”
KTVI reported that as many as 200 people had gathered to demand more changes in the city’s government after the resignation of Police Chief Tom Jackson Wednesday afternoon. The station reported that at least one person had been arrested and that protesters blocked traffic on nearby Florissant Road.
Jackson was the sixth Ferguson employee to resign or be fired after a Justice Department report cleared white former officer Darren Wilson of civil rights charges in the shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown this past August, but found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in the city police department.
Mayor James Knowles III announced Wednesday that the city had reached a mutual separation agreement with Jackson that will pay Jackson one year of his nearly $96,000 annual salary and health coverage. Jackson’s resignation becomes effective March 19, at which point Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff will become acting chief while the city searches for a replacement.
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.
In addition to Jackson, Ferguson’s court. clerk was fired last week and two police officers resigned. The judge who oversaw the court system also resigned, and the City Council on Tuesday agreed to a separation agreement with the city manager.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.