A black teenager who was fatally shot by a police officer had his hands raised when the officer approached him with his weapon drawn and fired repeatedly, according to two men who said they witnessed the shooting, which sparked a night of unrest in suburban St. Louis.
The FBI opened an investigation Monday into the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was shot multiple times Saturday after being confronted by an officer in Ferguson, a 21,000-resident suburb that’s nearly 70 per cent black.
Authorities were vague about exactly what led the officer to open fire, except to say that the shooting was preceded by a scuffle of some kind. It was unclear whether Brown or a man he was with was involved in the altercation.
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighbourhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
Investigators have refused to publicly disclose the race of the officer, who is now on administrative leave. But Phillip Walker said he was on the porch of an apartment complex overlooking the scene when he heard a shot and saw a white officer with Brown on the street.
Brown “was giving up in the sense of raising his arms and being subdued,” Walker told The Associated Press on Monday. The officer “had his gun raised and started shooting the individual in the chest multiple times.” The officer then “stood over him and shot him” after the victim fell wounded.
Dorian Johnson offered a similar account when he told WALB-TV that he and Brown were walking home from a convenience store when a police officer told them to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Johnson said they kept walking, which caused the officer to confront them from his car and again after getting out of his car.
Johnson said the first time the officer fired, he and Brown got scared and ran away.
“He shot again, and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air, and he started to get down,” Johnson said. “But the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.”
“We wasn’t causing harm to nobody,” Johnson said. “We had no weapons on us at all.”
Walker acknowledged that he did not see a scuffle or the circumstances surrounding the first gunshot.
The St. Louis County Police Department refused to discuss Johnson’s remarks, citing the ongoing investigation. But county Police Chief Jon Belmar previously said that an officer encountered Brown and another man outside an apartment complex, and that one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car and they struggled over the officer’s weapon.
The FBI is looking into possible civil rights violations arising from the shooting, said Cheryl Mimura, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s St. Louis field office. She said the FBI would be investigating regardless of the public attention surrounding the matter.
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement that the case deserves a thorough review.
Nearly three dozen people were arrested following a candlelight vigil Sunday night after crowds looted and burned stores, vandalized vehicles, assaulted and threatened reporters, and taunted officers who tried to block access to parts of the city.
St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman said 32 people were arrested for various offences, including assault, burglary and theft. Two officers suffered minor injuries, and there were no reports of civilians hurt.
Several businesses were looted, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store. People also took items from a sporting goods store and a cellphone retailer and carted rims away from a tire store.
The second person has not been arrested or charged, and it was not clear if he was armed, Jackson said. Blood samples were taken from Brown and the officer who shot him for toxicology tests, which can take weeks to complete.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, said she did not understand why police did not subdue her son with a club or stun gun. She said the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted, adding that “I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty.”
“Instead of celebrating his future, they are having to plan his funeral” and consult with attorneys about arranging a second autopsy, said Benjamin Crump, a family attorney who also represented Trayvon Martin’s relatives in the racially charged 2012 slaying in Florida.
“I don’t want to sugarcoat it,” Crump added. Brown “was executed in broad daylight.”
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