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State of emergency declared in Ferguson after police shoot and critically injure man during protests

FERGUSON, Mo. — A man who was shot and critically injured by police here after authorities said he opened fire at officers was in critical condition Monday, his father said, as questions remained about what sparked the gunfire amid protests marking the first anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

The late-night shooting was a violent coda to a mostly peaceful day of protests and vigils commemorating a year since Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, was shot and killed by a white Ferguson officer, an event that thrust this small suburb of St. Louis into the center of a national conversation on how police officers use lethal force toward minorities.

It heightened fears about what the latest bloodshed could do to a tense community that has repeatedly been unsettled by unrest over the last year. Activists had planned a day of civil disobedience on Monday, and dozens of people were arrested in St. Louis on Monday. 

On Monday afternoon, the St. Louis County executive declared a state of emergency in response to what he called “the potential for harm to persons and property” in the area.

“The recent acts of violence will not be tolerated in a community that has worked so tirelessly over the last year to rebuild and become stronger,” Steve Stenger, the county executive, said in a statement. “The time and investment in Ferguson and Dellwood will not be destroyed by a few that wish to violate the rights of others.”

Stenger said that he would place the St. Louis County police chief, Jon Belmar, in charge of police emergency management in Ferguson and the surrounding area, a nearby city.

[Black and unarmed: A year after Ferguson]

Belmar held a news conference early Monday morning to discuss the man shot by his officers, saying that this man had opened fire on an unmarked police SUV shortly before midnight.

On Monday, the office of Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, charged Tyrone Harris, 18, with 10 counts of assaulting law enforcement, shooting at a motor vehicle and armed criminal action as a result of this incident.

Harris remained in critical condition at a hospital in the area, according to the St. Louis County Police Department. He is being held on a $250,000 cash-only bond, a spokesman said.

The man shot by police had been identified by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other local news outlets as Tyrone Harris Jr. In a telephone interview Monday, Tyrone Harris Sr., who identified himself as Harris’s father, said that two girls who were with the younger Harris before he got shot said he didn’t have a gun.

Belmar said police were responding to reports of looting on West Florissant Avenue, which served as the focal point for the protests and unrest that followed Brown’s death last year and where stores were burned and looted on several nights.

Tensions began to increase at about 8 p.m. local time. With most of those who came to Ferguson to demonstrate gathered at a rap concert and a panel discussion, groups of young men began breaking into storefronts along West Florissant.

As a result, police cut off traffic to the area and deployed officers in riot gear, a visible police presence that prompted angry locals and some protesters to gather opposite the line of officers. While this was happening, Belmar said, plainclothes detectives farther down West Florissant were monitoring a person they believed to be armed, who was with at least three or four other people they also believed to have weapons.

Even as protesters and police were facing off nearby, two groups that were apparently involved in some kind of feud began firing at each other, Belmar said. He said between 40 and 50 shots were fired over about 45 seconds.

“It was a remarkable amount of gunfire,” Belmar said.

The person being tracked by the detectives crossed the street and left the area where the two groups were facing off, and he may have been preparing to return, Belmar said.

At that point, an unmarked SUV with its interior red and blue lights illuminated began moving toward the man, who began firing at the vehicle, striking the hood and windshield multiple times, Belmar said.

He was armed with a 9mm Sig Sauer pistol reported stolen last year, Belmar said.

These detectives returned fire from inside the car and were not sure if they hit the man, Belmar said. They followed the man toward a fenced-in area where he again opened fire, Belmar said, and all four detectives who had been in the SUV fired at the man. He was taken to a nearby hospital in critical, unstable condition.

The four detectives, who were placed on administrative leave, have not been identified.

Belmar said that this confrontation between police and the lone man “wasn’t the culmination of all the shooting,” though, adding that it was somewhat separate from the two groups firing at each other. Belmar said it was possible the man shot by police had left the two groups because he was afraid he was going to be shot.

“They were criminals,” Belmar said of the people who opened fire. “They weren’t protesters.”

Police were not clear on why the two groups were fighting, Belmar said.

Tyrone Harris Sr. said Monday that his son remained in critical condition, but said he was not allowed in the hospital and was told to remain on the sidewalk outside.

“The situation is messed up,” he said. “My son wasn’t even armed when he was shot.”

Harris said that his son, who went to school with Michael Brown, had been on a date when he went out to a remembrance honoring Brown. He said that he had been told his son was there with friends who got into some kind of an altercation, possibly a fight over a television, and that one of these people began shooting.

Two girls who were there told the elder Harris that his son was “running for his life.”

Tyrone Harris Sr. said that his son had graduated from high school and was planning on going to school to be an electrician. “There is no perfect child,” Harris said of his son, adding that he was trying to make something of himself.

The younger Harris had not graduated with the rest of his class, but he took classes over the summer and earned his diploma, his father said.

That shooting was followed by another burst of gunfire at around 2 a.m. near the Canfield Green apartment complex, right near where Brown was shot. Two young men — 17 and 19 years old — were shot at around that time.

The two teenagers told police they were walking on the sidewalk when a man wearing a red hooded sweatshirt started shooting at them from the rear passenger side of a vehicle. The 17-year-old was shot once in the chest or shoulder, while the 19-year-old was shot once in the chest, police said. They were both taken to the hospital with what police described as non-life-threatening injuries.

Meanwhile, Paul Hampel, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was beaten and robbed while reporting on a break-in happening on West Florissant.

“I got swarmed, beaten down really bad,” he told the Post-Dispatch.

“Those who terrorize communities with gunfire and commit violence against police officers are criminals, and their reprehensible acts must not be allowed to silence the voices of peace and progress,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) said in a statement Monday.

He added: “For the sake of all, it is my hope and expectation that today’s events will be peaceful so that these efforts can continue to move the region in a positive direction.”

During his news conference early Monday morning, Belmar stressed that the groups shooting at each other were separate from the protesters demonstrating in the streets.

“There is a small group of people out there who are intent on making sure we don’t have peace that prevails,” Belmar said. “That’s unfortunate. Because even with the folks who were in the street last night, there were a lot of emotions, I get it. But this is something different.”

He added: “We can’t talk about the good things that we have been talking about in the last year … if we’re prevented from moving forward by this type of violence.” Belmar characterized the shooting as “avoidable.”

Police officers shot Harris about half a mile from the spot where Brown was shot and killed last year by Darren Wilson, a former Ferguson police officer.

At the Fraternal Order of Police’s national conference in Pittsburgh on Monday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch “strongly” condemned “the violence against the community, including police officers, in Ferguson.”

“As we have seen over the recent months and years, not only does violence obscure any message of peaceful protest, it places the community, as well as the officers who seek to protect it, in harm’s way,” Lynch said, according to her prepared remarks.

“The weekend’s events were peaceful and promoted a message of reconciliation and healing,” she continued. “But incidents of violence, such as we saw last night, are contrary to both that message, along with everything that all of us, including this group, have worked to achieve over the past year.”

More than 100 demonstrators on Monday marched to a barricaded St. Louis County Justice Center, stepping inside the blocked-off area and staging a sit-in. Numerous people, including some of the most high-profile members of the Black Lives Matter movement, were arrested in downtown St. Louis.

[Ferguson activists DeRay Mckesson, Johnetta Elzie among those arrested in St. Louis]

In the year since Brown was killed, a series of demonstrations have erupted on Ferguson’s streets. The days after his death was marked by frenzied confrontations between demonstrators and police, unrest that lingered into the fall and flared up again after a grand jury did not indict Wilson.

The Justice Department has criticized how law enforcement agencies responded to the initial protests in Ferguson, saying in a draft summary of an upcoming report that many police actions “served to only exacerbate tensions between protests and the police.”

Earlier this year, the Justice Department released two reports sparked by the Ferguson unrest. In one, it said that it would not pursue federal civil rights charges against Wilson; in the other, it found that the city’s police and court system had routinely violated the constitutional rights of black citizens.

After these reports, Ferguson’s police chief, city manager and top municipal judge left their positions. Protests again emerged on the city’s streets after the Justice Department’s report and the departure of these officials.

The week after the Justice Department issued its reports, two police officers were shot and seriously injured near the city’s police headquarters. Once again, the Missouri Highway Patrol was called in to take over security amid fears of worsening tension. A 20-year-old man arrested and charged with the shooting told authorities he was not aiming at the police officers when he fired the gun.

This week, police again said they came under fire during tense protests in Ferguson. When Harris was shot, protesters were still filling some of the same streets in Ferguson where nightly showdowns between demonstrators and police occurred last year.

“We are deeply disappointed with the violence that took place last night,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and the Ferguson City Council said in a joint statement. “This kind of behavior from those who want to cause disruption and destroy the progress from this past year will not be tolerated.”

The sound of the gunfire was caught on film by CNN, which later aired video of an interview with the city’s new interim police chief Andre Anderson. Shots were heard on the street during the interview, and Anderson appeared startled.

Graphic video shot by prominent Ferguson protester Tony Rice — known for his tweets from the streets during demonstrations — appeared to show a handcuffed and injured man lying on the ground as an officer watched.

“It seemed like the protest was winding down,” Rice told The Washington Post of the moments before the violence. “And next thing you know, gunshots rang out.”

When the gunfire stopped, Rice said he was met with a horrible sight.

“By the time the gunshots died down, I stood up and looked, there’s another lady out there yelling that someone had been shot,” he said. “As I approached, sure enough, there’s a body on the ground.”

In the video, Rice is heard yelling to officers and asking why the man was not being given medical attention.

“Hey, he bleeding!” Rice said in the video. “Get him some help, man. Please get him some help! … He’s bleeding out, man, you see it. He’s breathing, man. Please get him some help!” He added later: “I just did not see a level of urgency. … And it was quite a while before the initial officers went over and did a pulse check.”

As they attempted to secure a still-chaotic scene, officers detained Rice, handcuffing him and sitting him down not far from the shooting before releasing him. “This is a crime scene,” an officer said. “Back up … You are under arrest!”

Rice said he did see three officers eventually attempt to provide some form of medical aid to the man who was shot.

Before Sunday night’s gunfire, there had been another shooting the previous night at an event related to the anniversary of Brown’s death. Police said they were called to the intersection of West Florissant Avenue and Ferguson Avenue after gunshots were fired and found a 22-year-old who was shot in the arm in that area.

The St. Louis County police said on Sunday afternoon that Trevion Hopson, 17, had been charged with unlawful use of a weapon due to that shooting. Police said Hopson went to anniversary events and fired at “a specific target” before shooting into the fleeing crowd.

St. Louis Alderman Antonio French — a well-known face on the streets of Ferguson since Brown’s death — said that, when night fell, things turned chaotic.

[Thousands dead, few prosecuted: An analysis of fatal shootings by on-duty police officers]

On Twitter, French later reported that tear gas had been used on the crowd. At the overnight news conference, Belmar said he had heard smoke had been deployed, but said he had not been at the scene of the protest since “about midnight.” CNN, among other outlets, later reported tear gas was used as well.

The St. Louis County Police said that three officers were injured on Sunday night and into Monday morning. Two officers were pepper-sprayed by protesters, while one officer was hit in the face by a rock, a spokesman said. Three county police cars were also damaged, two by gunfire and one due to a minor accident.

Authorities said they arrested four people late Sunday and early Monday. Three were charged with interfering with  police officers, while a third man was charged with failure to disperse and an unlawful use of a firearm.

This post has been updated. Wan and Berman reported from Washington. J. Freedom du Lac, Justin Moyer and Nick Kirkpatrick contributed.