Ferguson Suspect Said to Claim He Wasn’t Firing at Police

Law enforcement officials secure the crime scene and continue to search for evidence outside the police station after two officers were shot and wounded during last night's protest on March 12, 2015 in Ferguson, Missouri.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A man charged with assault in the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, during a protest allegedly told investigators he was firing at someone else in a separate dispute.

Jeffrey Williams, 20, had been part of the demonstration outside Ferguson police headquarters before two officers were wounded by shots fired from across the street, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Sunday at a press conference. Williams was arrested Saturday night.

“This arrest sends a clear message that acts of violence against our law enforcement personnel will never be tolerated,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. Federal investigators worked with St. Louis County police to review ballistics evidence to help identify the suspect, Holder said.

Protests flared anew in Ferguson after the U.S. Justice Department March 4 said the city’s police and municipal court routinely violated the civil rights of blacks, who comprise a majority of its 21,000 residents.

McCulloch said Williams conceded he was the shooter and told police he’d been involved in a dispute separate from the demonstration.

“Essentially what we’ve charged him with is firing shots,” McCulloch said. “It’s possible at this point that he was firing shots at someone other than the police but struck the police officers.”

Law enforcement officials weren’t sure they “completely buy that part” of the defendant’s account, McCulloch said.

Assault Charges

Williams faces two counts of criminal assault, each punishable by as long as life in prison, McCulloch said. Williams, who is from the Ferguson area, is also charged with firing a gun from a motor vehicle and three counts of “armed criminal action.” Each of those crimes are felonies.

The weapon used was a handgun that matched bullet shell casings recovered from the shooting scene, McCulloch said. Williams is being held on a $300,000 cash bond and the investigation is ongoing, the prosecutor said.

The officer from nearby Webster Groves and another from St. Louis County were shot as the stood in front of the police building, which has been the target of protests since an unarmed black teenager was killed by a Ferguson officer in August.

Officers Wounded

While deployed during a nighttime protest on March 11, one officer was shot in the cheek and the other in the shoulder. Both were taken to a hospital for treatment and later released. They’d been standing in a line of about 25 officers when the shots were fired about midnight that evening, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in a March 12 news conference.

McCulloch presided over a grand jury that declined to indict the officer in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown.

The death of Brown, 18, by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in a street confrontation was one of a spate of killings of black men by white police officers last year, inciting demonstrations across the U.S.

The incidents included the choke-hold death of Eric Garner by a New York City officer on Staten Island and the shooting by a Cleveland officer of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was holding a toy gun. A grand jury also declined to indict the New York police officer, Daniel Pantaleo.

Report, Resignations

The Justice Department’s report prompted the Missouri Supreme Court to appoint appellate judge Roy Richter to preside over all cases in the city’s court and to enact reforms. Ferguson municipal court Judge Ronald Brockmeyer resigned.

His resignation was followed by city manager John Shaw’s and an announcement that Police Chief Thomas Jackson would step down on March 19. Mayor James Knowles vowed to remain in office.

Protesters on March 11 chanted they wanted the mayor gone too.

“Not just Jackson, we want Knowles,” they yelled.

Responsibility for handling security at continuing protests in Ferguson was turned over to the St. Louis County police force and Missouri State Highway Patrol after the shooting.

Brown’s parents condemned the shooting of the officers and called for peace in a March 12 statement issued by their lawyers.

“We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of law enforcement,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. said in the statement. “It cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Ed Magee, a spokesman for McCulloch, didn’t immediately respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking information on whether Williams had an attorney.

At the time of his arrest, Williams was on probation in St. Louis County for receipt of stolen property, McCulloch said. A warrant may have been issued for his arrest for failure to contact his probation officers.

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