Law enforcement officials Friday released the name of the police officer who shot an unarmed teenager in suburban St. Louis that ignited a rash of violent clashes between protesters and police over the past week. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph cited the wrong day of the week.]
Officer Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the local police force, picked up a police dispatcher report of a “strong-arm” robbery just before noon on Saturday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told reporters at a press briefing near the burned-out QuikTrip convenience store that has become a flashpoint for violent protests in recent days.
Police had received a report that a black male dressed in a white T-shirt had stolen a box of cigars from a convenience store just minutes before noon, Chief Jackson told reporters and a crowd of about two dozen residents gathered at the briefing.
According to police accounts, Officer Wilson encountered Mike Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson at 12:01 p.m. Police say Brown pushed the officer into his squad car and assaulted him in an attempt to take the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired in the car before the altercation spilled out onto the street, the police say. By 12:04 pm, Brown had been shot multiple times.
Mr. Johnson has disputed that account, telling the media that he and Brown were walking in the street when an officer approached and demanded that they get out of the street. According to Johnson’s account, the officer then grabbed Brown around the neck and tried to pull him into the squad car. Johnson said that the officer opened fire after Brown broke free and started to run away.
Officer Wilson has been on administrative leave since the shooting. Police had withheld his identity for fear that he could be subject to retaliation during the racially charged, nightly protests that have erupted in Ferguson this week. Brown was black, as is 70 percent of the Ferguson population, and the Ferguson Police Department is predominantly white.
The tone of protests changed dramatically Thursday evening after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) gave security oversight of the protests to the state Highway Patrol and appointed Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Jonson – who is black – to lead the police effort. Captain Johnson reportedly marched alongside protesters when crowds once again took to the streets Thursday evening.
“We’re here to serve and protect,” Johnson said. “We’re not here to instill fear.”
Many Ferguson residents remain skeptical.
“I think it was the right thing to do releasing the officer’s name, but for them to say this is an armed robbery makes me think this is a coverup,” Ferguson resident Milton Jackson told Reuters. “I don’t believe what the officer did was called for. Even if there was a robbery, it was unnecessary force to shoot an unarmed black man.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department are investigating the shooting.
• This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.