Officer Kills Armed 18-Year-Old near Ferguson

Jim Suhr and Jim Salter, Yahoo! News, December 24, 2014

The mayor of the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley called for calm Wednesday after a white police officer killed a black 18-year-old who police said pointed a gun at him. The shooting reignited tensions that have lingered since the death of Michael Brown in neighboring Ferguson.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the officer was questioning two men–one later identified as 18-year-old Antonio Martin–late Tuesday about a theft at a Berkeley convenience store when Martin pulled a 9mm handgun on the officer.

The officer stumbled backward but fired three shots, one of which struck Martin, Belmar said. No shots came from Martin’s loaded gun, the chief said.

Martin died at the scene, though Belmar declined to specify where the fatal bullet hit Martin.

Berkeley is near Ferguson, Missouri, where white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, on Aug. 9, sparking weeks of sometimes violent demonstrations. {snip}

The 34-year-old, white Berkeley police officer, a six-year veteran of the police force in the 25,000-resident suburb, is on administrative leave pending an investigation, Belmar said. {snip}

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The officer wasn’t wearing his body camera, and his police cruiser’s dashboard camera was not activated because the car’s emergency lights were not on, Belmar said.

Police released surveillance video from the parking lot outside the store. The nearly two-minute clip shows two young men leaving the store as a patrol car rolls up, and the officer gets out and speaks with them. About 90 seconds later, the video appears to show one of the men raising his arm, though what he is holding is difficult to see because they were several feet from the camera. Belmar said it was a 9mm handgun–loaded with one round in the chamber and five more in the magazine.

Police were searching for the other man, who fled on foot.

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It was the third fatal shooting of a black suspect by a white police officer in the St. Louis area since Brown was killed. Kajieme Powell, 25, was killed on Aug. 19 after approaching St. Louis officers with a knife. Vonderrit Myers, 18, was fatally shot on Oct. 8 after allegedly shooting at a St. Louis officer.

Each shooting has been met by protests, and a crowd quickly gathered late Tuesday in Berkeley. The demonstration involving about 300 people turned violent.

More than 50 police officers, some in riot gear, responded. Video showed some wrestling with protesters. Belmar said officers used pepper spray but not tear gas. Four people were arrested on charges of assaulting officers.

Belmar said three explosive devices, perhaps fireworks, were tossed near gas pumps, and some protesters threw rocks and bricks. One officer hit by a brick was treated for facial cuts, and another was treated for a leg injury sustained as he retreated from an explosive.

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{snip} Ferguson also was criticized for having only three black officers on its 53-member force. Seventeen or 18 of Berkeley’s 31 officers are black, as is the police chief and the city’s top elected officials, said Hoskins, who is black.

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Belmar said Martin had a criminal record that included three assault charges and others for armed robbery, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon.

Some protesters questioned why the officer couldn’t use pepper spray or a stun gun.

“Frankly, that’s unreasonable,” Belmar said. “When we had somebody pointing a gun at a police officer, there’s not a lot of time.”

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