State of emergency issued following Ferguson anniversary violence

Jason Sickles

ST. LOUIS — A day of remembrance for Michael Brown quickly turned violent late Sunday when police shot a man they said had opened fire on them in Ferguson, Mo., close to where demonstrators gathered.

The shooter, identified as 18-year-old Tyrone Harris Jr. of St. Louis, remains in critical condition, according to St. Louis County police. On Monday afternoon, prosecutors issued 10 charges against Harris — including four counts of first-degree assault on a police officer.

Tyrone Harris Sr., the alleged shooter’s father, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his son and Brown, who was fatally shot by former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, “were real close.”

Three hours after the police-involved shooting, two more teens were wounded in an apparent drive-by shooting as they walked near a memorial honoring Brown.

The unrest prompted officials to place St. Louis County in an immediate state of emergency. The order puts St. Louis County police Chief John Belmar in command over all police emergency management in Ferguson and surrounding areas.

 “Chief Belmar shall exercise all powers and duties necessary to preserve order, prevent crimes, and protect the life and property of our citizens,” County Executive Steve Stenger wrote.

A beleaguered-looking Belmar learned of the drive-by shooting moments before briefing reporters on why his officers shot Harris.

There is a “small group of people out there that are intent on making sure we don’t have peace that prevails,” the chief said. “We can't sustain this as a community.”

Protesters yell as police from a line across West Florissant Ave., in Ferguson, Mo., on Sunday before shots were fired near the protest. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Belmar said Harris was not a part of the civil rights demonstrations, which drew several hundred protesters to the streets of Ferguson on Sunday evening. Instead, Belmar said, Harris was among a group of suspected looters who later got into a gun battle with at least one person and possibly more.

“They were criminals; they weren’t protesters,” the chief said. “Protesters are out there talking about a way to effect change, whatever that may be.”

When Harris spotted undercover officers tracking him in a vacant lot behind some businesses, he turned and fired on their unmarked police car with a stolen 9mm handgun, Belmar said.

All four officers from the car returned fire and have been placed on routine administrative leave.

“These are tragedies, make no mistake,” Belmar said during an early-morning news conference.

Harris’ father told the Post-Dispatch: “We think there’s a lot more to this than what’s being said.”

The burst of gunfire erupted as other officers were seeking to disperse demonstrators who had begun blocking traffic along a main Ferguson thoroughfare. A TV news crew captured the chaos of the moment as unsuspecting citizens scrambled for cover.

The chief estimated that 40 to 50 shots were exchanged between rival groups before Harris turned on police. “It was a remarkable amount of gunfire,” Belmar said.

A Twitter user, who was attending the protests, posted video of an officer passively standing near Harris, who was lying on the ground.

“Hey, he’s bleeding!” the videographer yells to police. “Please get him some help. He’s bleeding out. Please get him some help, man.”

Minutes after the shots were heard, an Associated Press photographer saw a man lying face-down, covered in blood, behind a boarded-up restaurant. Later, an AP reporter saw a woman overcome with grief. Friends were consoling her. She screamed: “Why did they do it?” Another woman fainted. A man nearby said, “They killed my brother.”

In another video posting, the man who yelled for help is pushed away from the scene and detained by police.

“If you want to shoot a video, if we ask you to get back, especially in a situation like that, please just comply and get back,” Belmar said at the news conference. “You can move forward later. But at that time, we don’t have time to argue with people.”

The Twitter user, @Search4Swag, later tweeted that he was eventually released but had suffered a small cut under his eye from being shoved into a chain-link fence. “No big deal,” he wrote of his injury. He was still on the scene when paramedics arrived to attend to Harris.



Recently hired Ferguson acting police Chief Andre Anderson was giving a local TV interview when the shots rang out around 11:15 p.m.



 

St. Louis County Police quickly posted tweets of their bullet-riddled cars, which allegedly were damaged by Harris.


Despite the shooting, police and protesters continued to square off into the early-morning hours on Monday. When demonstrators refused to disperse, law enforcement reverted to tactics from last year’s unrest.



The drive-by shooting occurred about 2:15 a.m. near apartments where Brown had died. Two men, ages 17 and 19, told officers they were walking near a memorial for Brown when an unknown black male wearing a red, hooded sweatshirt started shooting at them from the rear passenger side of a vehicle. Police said both teens suffered non-life threatening wounds to the chest.

A Post-Dispatch reporter was recovering Monday from a concussion and other injuries after being beaten and robbed during Sunday’s protests, according to the newspaper. Paul Hampel said he was taking pictures and video of looters breaking into businesses when he was attacked from behind.

“I got swarmed, beaten down really bad,” Hampel told his newspaper. The unknown attackers took his phone and wallet after punching and kicking him in the head.

Unrelated to the shootings and the attack on the reporter, St. Louis County police reported making four arrests during the protests. One man was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and failing to disperse. Three others were jailed for interfering with an arrest.

On Monday morning, U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, speaking at the National Fraternal Order of Police conference in Pittsburgh, condemned the violence against citizens and police.

As we have seen over the recent months and years, not only does violence obscure any message of peaceful protest, it places the community, as well as the officers who seek to protect it, in harm’s way,” Lynch said. “The weekend’s events were peaceful and promoted a message of reconciliation and healing. But incidents of violence, such as we saw last night, are contrary to both that message, along with everything that all of us, including this group, have worked to achieve over the past year.”

(This story has been updated since it originally published.)

Jason Sickles is a reporter for Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter (@jasonsickles).