FERGUSON, Missouri (AP) — Two officers were shot in front of the Ferguson Police Department early Thursday as demonstrators gathered after the resignation of the police chief in the Missouri city that became a symbol of racial tensions following a white officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.
The shots were fired hours after Ferguson’s mayor announced the resignation of Police Chief Thomas Jackson in the wake of a scathing federal government report alleging bias within the city’s 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.
A 32-year-old officer was shot in the face and a 41-year-old officer was shot in the shoulder, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference. Both were taken to a hospital, where Belmar said they were conscious, but he described their injuries as “serious.”
“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 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.
After the shooting, officers with guns and in riot gear circled the station, and more than a dozen squad cars blocked the street.
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 $96,000 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.
During a 12-minute news conference, 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 honorable 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.”
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