Ferguson protests: No arrests yet in shooting of police officers
Both officers who were shot are expected to recover from injuries
Two officers were shot in Ferguson early Thursday amid protests following the resignation of the police chief in the Missouri city that became a symbol of racial tensions after a white officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.
The county police chief described the attack on the officers as "an ambush" that could easily have killed both men. Police said some suspects had been taken into custody for questioning, but no arrests had been made.
Both officers were released from the hospital Thursday, said St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman.
Acknowledgement nine months ago would have kept that from happening.- Voice heard in amateur video from the scene of the shooting
The shots were fired in front of the police department just as a small crowd of protesters began to break up. The demonstrators gathered after the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, the latest city official to quit in the wake of a scathing federal government report alleging bias within the police department and court system.
Before the shooting, some at the protest were chanting to show they weren't satisfied with the resignations of Jackson and City Manager John Shaw earlier in the week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said one officer was shot in the face, just below his right eye, with the bullet lodging behind his ear. The other officer was hit in the shoulder, and the bullet came out his back.
'Ambush' shooting injured officers
The protest was a familiar scene in Ferguson, which saw similar and much larger demonstrations after the shooting death of Michael Brown last summer by city police officer Darren Wilson. When Wilson, who is white, was cleared in November by a state grand jury, the decision set off further protests, looting and fires. Thursday was the first time an officer at a protest had been shot.
Protesters in the Atlanta area added their voices to the chorus Wednesday after an unarmed, naked black man was fatally shot by an officer responding to a complaint of a suspicious person at an apartment complex.
Police said officers converged late Thursday morning on a home in Ferguson and took people in for questioning. No arrests were immediately made.
Based on where the officers were standing and the trajectory of the bullets, the shots appeared to be aimed directed at the police, Belmar said.
"This is really an ambush," he said. "You are basically defenseless. It is hard to guard against."
In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama took to Twitter to relay his prayers to the officers and denounce violence against police.
"Path to justice is one all of us must travel together," Obama wrote, putting his initials on the tweet. The White House confirmed that the president personally wrote it.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the wounding of the two officers was "inexcusable and repugnant."
Holder said "such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that nonviolent protesters in Ferguson and around the country" have been working toward for several months.
"We specifically denounce the actions of stand-alone agitators" who try to derail the movement across the country "to confront police brutality and to forward the cause of equality under the law for all."
In amateur video accessed by the Associated Press, two shots ring out and a man is heard screaming out in pain.
Someone at the scene, unseen and unidentified in the video, says: "Acknowledgement nine months ago would have kept that from happening."
Marciay Pitchford, 20, was among the protesters. She told the AP that the protest had been mostly peaceful until she heard the shots.
"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."
Police chief's resignation effective March 19
Jackson was the sixth employee to resign or be fired after a Justice Department report found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in Ferguson's police department. A separate Justice Department report released the same day, however, cleared Wilson of civil rights charges in the shooting. Wilson has since resigned.
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 $122,000 Cdn annual salary and health coverage. Jackson's resignation becomes effective March 19.
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 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.
Knowles 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."