FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — A suspect who authorities say opened fire on officers in Ferguson, Missouri, on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death was critically wounded when the officers shot back, St. Louis County’s police chief said early Monday.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the latest police-involved shooting would spur renewed unrest in Ferguson, the site of many protests — some violent — in the aftermath of Brown’s death on Aug. 9, 2014. Protest groups were quick to criticize the police response to protesters who gathered along West Florissant Avenue on Sunday night.
St. Louis County Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference that officers had been tracking the suspect, who they believed was armed, during a protest marking the death of Brown, the black, unarmed 18-year-old whose killing by a white Ferguson police officer touched off a national “Black Lives Matter” movement.
At the height of what was already a rowdy protest in which rocks and bottles were thrown at officers, gunshots rang out from the area near a strip of stores, including some that had been looted. Belmar believes the shots came from about six different shooters. What prompted the shooting wasn’t clear, but Belmar said the groups had been feuding.
At one point, the suspect crossed the street and apparently spotted the plainclothes officers arriving in an unmarked van with distinctive red and blue police lights, Belmar said. He said the suspect shot into the hood and windshield.
The officers fired back at him from inside the vehicle then pursued him on foot when he ran.
The suspect again fired on the officers when he became trapped in a fenced-in area, the chief said, and all four officers fired back. He was struck and fell.
The suspect was taken to a hospital, where Belmar said he was in “critical, unstable” condition. Authorities didn’t immediately release the identities of anyone involved, but Tyrone Harris told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the injured suspect was his son, 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr.
The elder Harris told the newspaper shortly after 3 a.m. that his son had just gotten out of surgery.
None of the officers was seriously injured. All four have been put on standard administrative leave. They were not wearing body cameras, Belmar said.
The shooting happened shortly after a separate incident that the chief called “an exchange of gunfire between two groups” rang out around 11:15 p.m. Sunday while protesters were gathered on West Florissant Avenue, a business zone that saw rioting and looting last year after Brown’s killing. The shots sent protesters and reporters running for cover.
The chief said an estimated six shooters unleashed a “remarkable” amount of gunfire over about 45 seconds.
Belmar waved off any notion that the people with the weapons were part of the protest.
“They were criminals. They weren’t protesters,” he said.
The suspect who fired on officers had a semi-automatic 9 mm gun that was stolen last year from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, according to the chief.
“There is a small group of people out there that are intent on making sure that peace doesn’t prevail,” he said. “There are a lot of emotions. I get it. But we can’t sustain this as we move forward.”
Some protest groups were critical of police.
“It was a poor decision to use plainclothes officers in a protest setting because it made it difficult for people to identify police officers, which is essential to the safety of community members,” Kayla Reed, a field organizer with the Organization of Black Struggle, said in a statement.
“After a year of protest and conversation around police accountability, having plainclothes officers without body cameras and proper identification in the protest setting leaves us with only the officer’s account of the incident, which is clearly problematic.”
Early Monday, another reported shooting drew officers to an apartment building in the area. Two males told police they were targeted in a drive-by shooting near the memorial to Brown outside Canfield Apartments. A 17-year-old was shot in the chest and shoulder while a 19-year-old was shot in the chest, but their injuries were not life-threatening, the St. Louis County Police said in a news release.
Separately, police said a 17-year-old suspect has been charged with unlawful use of a weapon and one count of resisting arrest after he fired shots near the protesters late Sunday. He is being held on $100,000 bond.
The anniversary of Brown’s killing, which cast greater scrutiny on how police interact with black communities, has sparked days of renewed protests, though until Sunday they had been peaceful and without any arrests.
Before the gunfire, protesters were blocking traffic and confronting police. One person threw a glass bottle at officers but missed.
For the first time in three consecutive nights of demonstrations, some officers were dressed in riot gear, including bullet-proof vests and helmets with shields. Police at one point early Monday shot smoke to disperse the crowd that lingered on West Florissant, Belmar said.
One officer was treated for cuts after a rock was thrown at his face, and two officers were pepper-sprayed by protesters, county police spokesman Officer Shawn McGuire said in an email. Five people were arrested, according to records McGuire released.
Several other peaceful events earlier Sunday were held to mark the anniversary.
Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., led a march through town. It started at the site where Brown was fatally shot by officer Darren Wilson. A grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute Wilson, who resigned in November.
Later, a few hundred people turned out at Greater St. Mark Family Church for a service to remember Brown, with his father joining other relatives sitting behind the pulpit.
Organizers of some of the weekend activities pledged a day of civil disobedience on Monday, but have not offered specific details.
Associated Press photographer Jeff Roberson contributed to this report.