After nearly two months of civil demonstrations, police in St. Louis communities are tired of looking like the bad guys.
At a press conference on Tuesday, members of the St. Louis Police Officers Association sought to justify the recent shooting of an 18-year-old black man by a white, off-duty police officer, the latest incident in a string of officer-involved shootings that have triggered several mass demonstrations against law enforcement in the metropolitan area.
Police officials released the results of a gunshot residue test conducted on the body of Vonderitt Myers shortly after he was fatally shot by a St. Louis County police officer on Oct. 8. Police claimed shortly after the shooting that Myers had shot at the officer during a foot pursuit, prompting the officer to discharge his weapon more than a dozen times. The residue results showed that Myers had gun power on his right hand consistent with firing a weapon, according to police.
“We’re done, as a police union, standing in the shadows in these cases,” said Jeff Roorda, a spokesperson for the police association. Roorda added that many recent fatal shootings were being tried “in the court of public opinion,” and that police wanted an opportunity to present their version of events in that venue.
Along with the gun residue report, police mentioned a handful of photos that surfaced on social media showing Myers holding several firearms, including one weapon that was identified as a gun similar to one police say they found on Myers’ person after the fatal shooting. Another set of images showed Myers wearing an elephant-shaped medallion that police said they also found on the man’s body after the shooting.
An attorney representing the Myers family confirmed the photos were authentic, but said the images were more than a year old and that “young people do a lot of things on social media that they should not.” The images have since been removed from the social media profile, though copies of the images can be found on other websites.
Myers family attorney Jerryl Christmas called for an outside agency to investigate the shooting, saying relatives want a “full and fair” examination of the events.
“The information should be coming from the police department,” Christmas said. “Why are we getting information from the police union? All of this stuff adds to the distrust in the community.”
According to police, the off-duty officer engaged in a foot pursuit of Myers after spotting the man and two others with what he thought might have been a weapon. Police say Myers shot at the officer several times; the officer, who has still not been identified, returned fire.
Family members dispute these events, saying the gun Myers was believed to be holding was actually a sandwich that had been purchased at a convenience store earlier in the evening. Surveillance footage released by the store to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirmed Myers purchased a sandwich that night.
The shooting reignited protests in the St. Louis community. Many activists drew parallels between Myers’ death and that of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer two months ago in nearby Ferguson. Activists also criticized the release of Myers’ criminal record, comparing it to the release of a surveillance tape that purported to show Brown engaged in a strong-armed robbery at a convenience store minutes before he was shot.
Roorda defended the quick release of information in the Myers case, saying the evidence was made public in an attempt to “restore confidence in the police department.”
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.