Two police officers were injured in a shooting near a group of protesters in Ferguson, Mo., early Thursday morning, mere hours after the community’s chief of police announced his intention to step down.
The officers, who were not assigned to the Ferguson Police Department, were seriously wounded by bullets toward the end of an hours-long demonstration across the street from the police department’s headquarters.
As many as four shots rang out shortly after midnight as the crowd began leaving for the night, according to reports. A live Internet feed by citizen broadcaster Heather DeMian captured the sound of three to four gunshots before protesters and police scrambled for cover.
At a press briefing late Thursday morning, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the agency was “lucky” the officers were not fatally wounded.
“By God’s grace, we didn’t lose two officers last night,” he said.
The officers — identified as a 14-year veteran of the St. Louis County Police Department and a seven-year veteran of the nearby Webster Groves Police Department — were treated and released from an area hospital on Thursday. Their injuries were not expected to have permanently debilitating effects, Belmar said.
The shooting occurred following a night of civil demonstrations hours after Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson announced his intention to resign. The embattled police chief, whose handling of the crisis that followed the shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. last August was widely criticized, became the sixth city official to resign after the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released a scathing, 100-page report accusing his officers of engaging in racial profiling, using excessive force and other authoritative abuses.
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But there was no criticism for the police department from Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General who heads the DOJ, in remarks made about the recent shooting in Ferguson.
“What happened last night was a pure ambush,” Holder said. “This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson. This was a damn punk — a punk who was trying to sow discord.”
President Barack Obama echoed Holder’s remarks during an appearance on ABC late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“There’s no excuse for criminal acts,” Obama told Kimmel. “They’re criminals. They need to be arrested.”
Belmar told reporters that investigators had several leads, but declined to offer any suspect description or identity. Late Thursday morning, police raided a home in Ferguson that was initially believed to be connected to the shooting. Three people inside the home were detained by police; all three were questioned by investigators and later released, police said.
Community organizers and demonstrators held a vigil outside the Ferguson police station Thursday evening for the two injured officers before renewing calls for a change to police tactics. The protest ended without incident around 11:30 p.m. local time.
The St. Louis County Police Department and Missouri Highway Patrol have taken over security for future demonstrations at the police station. The officers, whose names have not been released publicly, are reportedly recovering at home and have been placed on paid administrative leave.
Matthew Keys is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.