ST. LOUIS — Officers arrested at least nine people and deployed tear gas amid protests in St. Louis over the death of a black 18-year-old who was fatally shot by police after he pointed a gun at them, the city’s police chief said.
Chief Sam Dotson said at a news conference late Wednesday that a group of protesters who had blocked an intersection threw glass bottles and bricks at officers and refused orders to clear the roadway. Inert gas was used and when that had no effect on the crowd, police used tear gas to clear the intersection, Dotson said. Those arrested face charges of impeding the flow of traffic and resisting arrest, he said. A vacant building and at least one car were burned.
The demonstration was one of several Wednesday after the killing of 18-year-old Mansur Ball-Bey of St. Louis. Tensions were already high after violence erupted during events marking the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old fatally shot last year by a police officer in nearby Ferguson.
Two police officers serving a search warrant encountered two suspects Wednesday afternoon at a home in a crime-troubled section of the city’s north side, one of which was Ball-Bey, the chief said. The suspects were fleeing the home as Ball-Bey, who was black, turned and pointed a handgun at the officers, who shot him, Dotson said. He died at the scene.
Both officers, who are white, were unharmed, according to a police report.
Police are searching for the second suspect, who they said is believed to be in his mid- to late teens.
Dotson said four guns, including the handgun wielded by the dead suspect, and crack cocaine were recovered at or near the home, where illegal guns were found during a police search last year.
Dotson did not say whether the handgun found in the dead man’s possession was loaded. Messages seeking comment about that from police were not immediately returned Thursday.
A man and woman inside the home were arrested, Dotson said.
Roughly 150 people gathered Wednesday afternoon near the scene of the shooting, questioning the use of deadly force. Some chanted “Black Lives Matter,” a mantra used after Brown’s death.
As police removed the yellow tape that cordoned off the scene, dozens of people converged on the home, many chanting insults and gesturing obscenely at officers. Several yelling onlookers surrounded individual officers.
“Another youth down by the hands of police,” Dex Dockett, 42, who lives nearby, told a reporter. “What could have been done different to de-escalate rather than escalate? They (police) come in with an us-against-them mentality. You’ve got to have the right kind of cops to engage in these types of neighborhoods.”
Another neighborhood resident, Fred Price, said he was skeptical about Dotson’s account that the suspect pointed a gun at officers before being mortally wounded.
“They provoked the situation,” Price, 33, said. “Situations like this make us want to keep the police out of the neighborhood. They’re shooting first, then asking questions.”
The law gives police officers latitude to use deadly force when they feel physically endangered. The Supreme Court held in a 1989 case that the appropriateness of use of force by officers “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene,” rather than evaluated through 20/20 hindsight.
That standard is designed to take into account that police officers frequently must make split-second decisions during fast-evolving confrontations, and should not be subject to overly harsh second-guessing. The Justice Department cited that legal threshold earlier this year when it cleared Ferguson officer Darren Wilson in Brown’s shooting.
Protests have become a familiar scene across the St. Louis region since Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed on Aug. 9, 2014. A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Justice Department declined to charge Wilson, who resigned in November.
Some of those who protested Ball-Bey’s killing had already spent the morning in downtown St. Louis, marching to mark the anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Kajieme Powell. He was fatally shot by two St. Louis officers after police said he approached them with a knife. Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce is still reviewing the case to determine whether lethal force was justified.
In addition to the nine arrests at the Wednesday night demonstration, officers responded to reports of burglaries in the area and the fire department was called after a car was set ablaze, according to Dotson. He blamed the crimes on people seeking “notoriety” in a neighborhood “plagued by violence.”
On Sunday, a 93-year-old veteran who was part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen — the U.S. military’s first black aviators — was the victim of two crimes within minutes in the same area. The veteran was robbed and his car was stolen, but he was unhurt. His car was found Tuesday blocks from where it was taken.