2 officers shot as protests in Ferguson turn violent following police chief’s resignation

Posted at 3:37 AM, Mar 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-12 04:27:13-04

(CNN) — Two police officers were shot in Ferguson early Thursday morning as demonstrations that began as a celebration of the police chief’s resignation gave way to violence and gunfire.

One, a St. Louis County police officer, was struck in the shoulder; the other, a Webster Groves officer, was hit in the face, said St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar.

The officers were hospitalized and conscious, he said.

Police from various jurisdictions were in the city keeping an eye on the protestors at the time.

“These police officers were standing there and they were shot, just because they were police officers,” Belmar said.

Protesters had gathered outside the Ferguson Police Department Wednesday night to cheer the resignation of the city’s embattled Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

The crowd had been thinning out, ready to call it a night, when the shots rang out, Belmar said.

“All of a sudden, I heard at least four or five shots ring out,” witness Markus Loehrer told CNN. “It took me at least 30 seconds of watching before I realized there was an officer down. We are not there to shoot cops, we don’t like violence. So we did what anybody would do — we ran away.”

“We could see the muzzle flash,” said Bradley Rayford, a witness who said he was a few feet from the shooting. “Someone was shooting towards the police department.”

The demonstrations started off peacefully, but devolved through the course of the night.

As they faced a long line of officers, some demonstrators briefly closed South Florissant Road that runs in front of the police station. At least two people were arrested, CNN affiliate KMOV reported, but it wasn’t clear why.

Some chanted “Racist cops have got to go.”

At least one scuffle broke out between demonstrators. Some officers stood behind cars with guns drawn.

The revived protests, which had died down in recent weeks, is indication that Ferguson continues to be a powder keg despite the string of resignations that have followed since the Justice Department issued a report damning the city’s policing tactics for disproportionately targeting African-Americans.

The latest to step down was Police Chief Thomas Jackson.

Protester DeRay McKesson said demonstrators want more — they want the police department disbanded and for Mayor James Knowles to resign as well.

The demonstrators are also angry that the officer who killed Michael Brown was exonerated of wrong doing by a grand jury and the Justice Department.

It was the shooting death of Brown, an unarmed black teen, by the white police Officer Darren Wilson that saw Ferguson erupt in sometimes-violent protests.

“We’re here for Mike Brown,” demonstrators chanted Wednesday night.

Chief’s resignation

Earlier Wednesday, Chief Jackson resigned. He had come under fire almost immediately after Brown’s death, and protesters had been demanding his resignation for months.

Jackson and the city “have agreed to a mutual separation,” Ferguson officials announced.

“It’s a really hard pill to swallow,” Jackson said in a text message responding to CNN’s request for comment.

The resignation will go into effect March 19, Jackson said, to “provide for an orderly transition of command.”

String of resignations

Jackson’s resignation is the latest fallout from the Justice Department report, which faulted Ferguson’s officers for seeing residents, particularly African-Americans, as “sources of revenue.”

The investigators also found evidence of racist jokes being sent around by Ferguson police and court officials.

Ferguson City Manager John Shaw stepped down Tuesday. The report mentions both men by name.

Two police officers resigned last week and the city’s top court clerk was fired in connection with racist emails, city spokesman Jeff Small said on Friday.

After his resignation Wednesday, Jackson said in a written statement to CNN’s Don Lemon that he was encouraged by the report’s conclusion, which says that Ferguson “has the capacity to reform its approach to law enforcement.”

“We agree that Ferguson can do the tough work to see this through and emerge the best small town it can be,” he said.

Chief defended department as criticism grew

When Jackson became Ferguson’s police chief in 2010, it was supposed to be a relatively easy way to cap his career in law enforcement.

After some 30 years with the St. Louis County Police Department, serving as commander of a drug task force and SWAT team supervisor, being a police chief of a smaller department should have been less stressful.

The shooting of Michael Brown last year changed everything.

Brown, an African-American teen, was unarmed when he was shot by a white Ferguson police officer. The incident exposed feelings of distrust between Ferguson’s black community and its police department, which is overwhelmingly white.

Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, won’t face any criminal charges for the shooting. In November, a grand jury decided not to indict him. Last week the Justice Department said Wilson’s actions “do not constitute prosecutable violations” of federal civil rights law. He resigned from the department in November, citing security concerns.

But that hasn’t stopped criticism of the department from local residents and top federal officials.

Even before the Justice Department report was finished, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said it was “pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate.”

Critics have accused Jackson of inflaming tensions in the St. Louis suburb with his response to the shooting.

Over the past six months, Jackson has defended his officers and vowed to work with the community.

“I intend to see this thing through. And I’ve been working with a lot of community members to work on some progressive changes that will bring the community together and to open up dialogue and getting us all talking about serious issues and actually creating solutions to problems,” he told CNN in November.