FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Two officers were shot in front of the Ferguson Police Department early Thursday, a spokesman for the county police department said, as protesters gathered following the resignation of the city’s embattled police chief.
The officers were shot shortly after midnight Thursday, according to St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman. Their conditions were unknown and no further details were immediately available, he said.
The shots were fired as what had earlier been a crowd of about 150 people had begun to dwindle, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Some protesters fell to the ground and others ran. A huge police presence, including officers in riot gear, later surrounded the department.
Ferguson Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff told the newspaper that he didn’t think either officer was from his department. Eickhoff said he didn’t know the extent of the officers’ injuries.
Representatives of the Ferguson Police Department could not immediately be reached. The Highway Patrol said early Thursday that troopers were headed to the scene but they could not provide any details.
TV station KSDK reported the officers were taken to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.
Mayor James Knowles III announced Wednesday that the city had reached a mutual separation agreement with Police Chief Thomas Jackson that will pay Jackson one year of his nearly $96,000 annual salary and health coverage. Jackson’s resignation becomes effective March 19, at which point Eickhoff will become acting chief while the city searches for a replacement.
Jackson was the sixth employee to resign or be fired after a Justice Department report cleared white former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson of civil rights charges in the shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer. A separate Justice Department report found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in the city police department.
Jackson had previously resisted calls by protesters and some of Missouri’s top elected leaders to step down over his handling of Brown’s shooting and the weeks of sometimes-violent protests that followed. He was widely criticized from the outset, both for an aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency’s erratic and infrequent releases of key information.
He took nearly a week to publicly identify Wilson as the shooter and then further heightened tension in the community by releasing Wilson’s name at the same time as store security video that police said showed Brown stealing a box of cigars and shoving a clerk only a short time before his death.
During a 12-minute news conference, Knowles said Jackson resigned after “a lot of soul-searching” about how the community could heal from the racial unrest stemming from the fatal shooting last summer.
“The chief is the kind of honorable man you don’t have to go to,” Knowles said. “He comes to you when he knows that this is something we have to seriously discuss.”
The acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division released a statement saying the U.S. government remains committed to reaching a “court-enforceable agreement” to address Ferguson’s “unconstitutional practices,” regardless of who’s in charge of the city.
A U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday the Justice Department had not pressured or encouraged Jackson to resign during meetings with him but had also not resisted the idea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing meetings between the Justice Department and the police department.
The resignation was welcomed by state lawmakers who represent Ferguson.
“There would be a lot of people that would approve of that,” said Democratic state Rep. Sharon Pace, who represents the neighborhood where Brown was shot.
Jackson oversaw the Ferguson force for nearly five years before the shooting that stirred months of unrest across the St. Louis region and drew global attention to the predominantly black city of 21,000.
In addition to Jackson, Ferguson’s court. clerk was fired last week and two police officers resigned. The judge who oversaw the court system also resigned, and the City Council on Tuesday agreed to a separation agreement with the city manager.