Manhunt in Ferguson after shooting of two policemen
Two officers released from hospital after being shot in face and shoulder at protest
Two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, were shot and wounded in what officials called an ambush, in the latest spasm of violence arising from months of tension between the city’s black community and its mostly white police force.
An intense manhunt is under way for a suspect or suspects in the shootings of the officers, who have been treated and released from hospital, St Louis County police said.
Law enforcement officers in tactical gear swarmed a home in a St Louis suburb as part of the search. Television images showed officers on the roof breaking into the attic with heavy tools.
Shawn McGuire, a St Louis County police spokesman, said people were taken from the house but there have been no arrests so far. He would not confirm media reports that two men and a woman were led away.
A 41-year-old St Louis County police officer was struck in the shoulder and a 32-year-old officer from nearby Webster Groves police department had a bullet lodged near his ear after it passed through his cheek in the incident.
The shots rang out as a rally in front of the city’s police headquarters was dispersing hours after the local police chief resigned. After months of criticism, police chief Thomas Jackson quit in the wake of a scathing US justice department report which found that his force was rife with racial bias.
The shootings were “inexcusable and repugnant”, US attorney general Eric Holder said in a statement. “Such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that nonviolent protesters in Ferguson and around the country have been working towards.”
St Louis County police chief Jon Belmar told a news conference authorities had possible leads in finding whoever was responsible. He said the shooter used a handgun and shell casings had been recovered.
Mr Belmar also warned that police may shoot back if attacked in the future.
The St Louis suburb was thrown into turmoil in August by the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white policeman, thrusting it into the centre of an intense national debate over US law enforcement’s treatment of minorities and use of deadly force.
The Ferguson shootings come less than three months after a man ambushed and killed two New York City patrolmen, saying he was seeking to avenge the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and an unarmed black man in New York City. In both cases, grand juries decided against bringing criminal charges.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing Mr Brown’s parents, said the family condemned the shootings and insisted a small number of people were responsible for any violence.
The Ferguson protest started peacefully on Wednesday soon after Mr Jackson said he was stepping down, but about two dozen officers in riot gear later faced off with demonstrators and at least two people were taken into custody.
The gunshots rang out about midnight, causing panic. Many of the few dozen demonstrators still present fled, some screaming.
Police scrambled, with many taking defensive positions with weapons drawn and some huddling behind riot shields, according to a video published online.
“I don’t know who did the shooting . . . but somehow they were embedded in [the protesters],” Mr Belmar said.
Protesters at the scene said on social media, however, that the shots did not come from where they were standing.
“The shooter was not with the protesters. The shooter was atop the hill,” activist DeRay McKesson said on Twitter.
“I was here. I saw the officer fall. The shot came from at least 500 feet away from the officers.”
Mr Jackson was the latest in a string of Ferguson officials to resign after the justice department report, which found the city used police as a collection agency, issuing traffic citations to black residents to boost its coffers, resulting in a “toxic environment”.
After the report, Mr Holder said the federal government would demand police reforms in Ferguson, including possibly dismantling the department.