State of Emergency issued in St. Louis County after unrest in Ferguson

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FERGUSON, Mo. — A day of peaceful vigils to mark the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s shooting death turned ugly late Sunday when protesters threw rocks and bottles at officers, and police critically injured a man who they say fired at them.

A man wounded by police after, authorities say, he opened fire on officers during Sunday’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri, has been identified as Tyrone Harris, 18, of St. Louis.

Earlier Monday, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the shooter used a stolen handgun to unleash a “remarkable amount of gunfire” on police officers.

Prosecutors are charging Harris with four counts of first-degree assault on law enforcement, five counts of armed criminal action and one count of discharging a firearm at a motor vehicle. He remains in a hospital in critical condition and is being held on a $250,000 cash-only bond.

Belmar said those resorting to violence are not protesters.

“Protesters are people who are out there to effect change,” he said. There were “several people shooting, several rounds shot.”

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has issued the following statement to KTVI in St. Louis on Monday:

“In light of last night’s violence and unrest in the City of Ferguson, and the potential for harm to persons and property, I am exercising my authority as county executive to issue a state of emergency, effective immediately.

The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger. The time and investment in Ferguson and Dellwood will not be destroyed by a few that wish to violate the rights of others.

I commend the St. Louis County Police Department, the Missouri Highway Patrol, and other local agencies for their professional response as they work daily in the service of law, order, and peace.
Pursuant to my executive order, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar shall immediately take over the operation of police emergency management in the City of 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.”

Peaceful vigil, then chaos

The anniversary observations of Brown’s shooting death by a white Ferguson police officer started off peacefully Sunday.

Throughout the day, vigils honored the unarmed black teen. Attendants observed 4½ minutes of silence, to signify the 4½ hours Brown’s body lay on the street after he was shot last year.

But the suspect’s gunfire shifted the focus Sunday night.

When officers first saw him, he was running away after allegedly exchanging gunfire with an unknown person.

Some gunfire rang out as reporters were talking to Ferguson’s acting police chief, Andre Anderson. A startled Anderson continued speaking, with a steady burst of gunfire heard in the background. Crowds scattered.

Detectives in an unmarked SUV turned on its emergency lights and pursued the suspect, only to be shot at, according to Belmar. The bullets hit the vehicle’s hood and windshield several times, Belmar said.

As the detectives got out of the car, the suspect allegedly turned around and fired again.

Then he ran toward a fenced area, where he continued firing — until officers struck him multiple times, Belmar said.

The four plainclothes officers involved in the shooting have between six to 12 years of experience, he said. They have been placed on administrative leave.

Night turns tense

By then, police presence had turned heavy, and rumors about the shooting flew.

Police and protesters faced off in a tense standoff on West Florissant Avenue, where Brown was shot.

Several objects were thrown at police and some businesses damaged, the St. Louis County Police Department said. A journalist was attacked and robbed in a parking lot. Three St. Louis County police officers were injured: One was struck in the face by a brick, while two others were pepper-sprayed.

Police, with helmets and shields, pushed crowds back and called in tactical units.

“We’re ready for what? We’re ready for war,” some in the crowd chanted.

Another shooting

In a separate incident early Monday, a man wearing a red-hooded sweatshirt shot two teens, ages 17 and 19, in the chest, the St. Louis County Police Department said.

Both were hospitalized, with injuries not considered life-threatening, authorities said.

The teens were walking on a sidewalk near where Brown was killed a year ago.

‘Pray for peace’

Amid the chaos, some appealed for calm.

“Please pray for peace in Ferguson tonight and forever,” Danny Takhar tweeted. “And the police department really needs to look at what they did last year and today.”

Others posted a video of what they described as a shooting victim in Ferguson, lying on the streets bleeding.

“Please get him some help! He’s bleeding out,” a voice said off-camera.

The genesis

The details of what happened on August 9, 2014, and the days of protest that followed have become a polarizing topic in Ferguson and America as a whole.

Brown’s killing by Officer Darren Wilson sparked outrage and protests nationwide against what some described as racial bias by the police.

A grand jury didn’t indict Wilson, and the U.S. Justice Department also declined to bring criminal charges.

The killing sparked weeks of protests that at times intensified into street fires and looting of businesses. Police fired tear gas in response, sparking more tensions.

Wilson retired from the Ferguson Police Department.

But protesters — many of whom are skeptical of the local and federal inquiries into the case — point to examples of police misconduct exposed in the wake of Brown’s death. The case also led to new policing strategies, including police body cameras that have injected truth into areas where there was once only debate.

More protests planned

Early Monday, officers used smoke bombs to disperse the crowd.

But protesters are expected to return.

Events highlighting what’s described as a day of civil disobedience are planned for Monday. In the past, these have included blocking highways and shutting down big businesses across St. Louis County.