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theodore M I R A L D I mpa ... editor, publisher, writer
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
BEN KESLING And JOE BARRETT
A white police officer killed a black teenager who was allegedly armed in a St. Louis suburb late Tuesday, leading to a small protest and four arrests at the scene of the shooting, according to police.
The death of Antonio Martin, 18 years old, comes as tensions run high in U.S. cities over the use of deadly force by police. The shooting happened in Berkeley, Mo., just miles from the town of Ferguson, where the death of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in August sparked months of demonstrations that turned violent at times.
Berkeley officials moved quickly to keep the public from drawing a connection to Ferguson. Berkeley’s population is more than 80% black, and Mayor Theodore Hoskins pointed to its large number of black police officers and he and other elected officials who are African-American. In Ferguson, the city’s population is two-thirds African-American, while its city council and police force are largely white.
The mayor also said, unlike Ferguson, the shooting was captured on a surveillance camera and a weapon was recovered on the scene.
“We’re trying to indicate that this wasn’t the same as Ferguson,” Mr. Hoskins said at a news conference. “You couldn’t even compare this with Ferguson or the Garner case in New York.”
The mayor of Ferguson couldn't be reached immediately for comment.
Protests have spread across the country in recent months not just over the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, but Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. and Dontre Hamilton in Milwaukee, Wis. Both died during confrontations with police.
A man who pulled a gun on a police officer during a routine business check was shot and killed early Wednesday in Berkeley, Mo., just a few miles from Ferguson. Photo: AP
The shooting in Berkeley happened around 11:15 p.m., as the officer responded to a call of larceny at a gas station, said Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County Police Department, which is investigating the shooting. The city of just over 9,000 residents is northwest of downtown St. Louis, tucked against the region’s main airport.
Police said two men approached the officer in the parking lots and one appeared to pull a gun. The officer fired his weapon three times with one round hitting and killing the suspect. A 9mm pistol with a scratched out serial number was recovered at the scene, Chief Belmar said.
The officer’s name wasn't released by police, but officials confirmed he has been placed on administrative leave by the Berkeley Police Department. County police released the name of the 18-year-old on Wednesday morning. A call placed to Mr. Martin’s family wasn’t immediately returned.
A surveillance camera at the gas station captured the incident, and police released footage up to the moment of the shooting.
“The video goes on; there’s no reason for the family of this young man to have to see the rest of the video,” Chief Belmar said of the abbreviated footage. He added the department would be distributing more video from the scene that will include footage of the officer allegedly retreating to ensure transparency.
The police shooting death of an allegedly armed black man in a St. Louis suburb led to small protests and four overnight arrests. WSJ’s Ben Kesling reports. Photo: AP
In his morning news conference, Chief Belmar said a crowd of 200 to 300 people gathered near the gas station after the shooting. While many protesters were peaceful, one officer was hit with a brick and another was injured trying to flee from a series of three explosions of what appeared to be improvised fireworks that were set off during the protest. Four arrests were made for assaults on police, he added.
“This is a tragedy, but we need to take it to a level of discourse and conversation and perhaps take it off the street,” he said.
He also said that police didn’t deploy tear gas or flash bangs to disperse the crowd, contrary to reports on social media. The crowd had largely dispersed by Wednesday morning
The officer’s police cruiser was equipped with a dash-mounted camera that didn’t record footage because it only operates when the car’s rooftop lights are turned on. The officer also had been given a body-mounted camera, but he wasn’t wearing it at the time of the shooting.
Chief Belmar said the officer was involved in a similar incident in recent years when he and a suspect struggled for the officer’s gun. At some point, the officer purposefully dropped the magazine out of the weapon and fired the chambered round into the floor to prevent the gun from being used by the suspect, he said.
Lawyer Brian Millikan, who is representing the officer involved, said his client acted properly in the situation and the video shows that. He declined to provide the name of the officer, only saying he is a four-year veteran of the Berkeley department and served at a neighboring department for a little more than a year before that.
Berkeley, whose town motto is “A Planned Progressive Community,” has 31 police officers of which 17 or 18 are black, including three of the four highest-ranking officers, Mr. Hoskins said.
The mayor said the shooting wasn’t a situation where an officer went out “half-cocked” and made a rash decision. He added residents need to recognize that the officer seemed to have acted responsibly when allegedly being confronted with a gun.
“There’s a disjointed conclusion that all our policemen are guilty,” Mr. Hoskins said. “My message to the community is we’re sure we’re going to have a complete investigation.” He said the city will conduct an independent investigation of the incident along with St. Louis County’s investigation.
Protests broke out in nearby Ferguson last month after a St. Louis County grand jury chose not to indict city police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Mr. Brown. Those demonstrations at points turned violent with looting and arson.