ST. LOUIS — Within hours of a deadly shooting of an 18-year-old African American man by a white St. Louis city police officer, the department held a briefing and issued a report providing details of the crime scene — a dramatic departure from the week-long silence that followed the August shooting of Michael Brown.
The shooting Wednesday night sparked angry protests in St. Louis similar to those in Ferguson after the Brown shooting, but information released by police and an autopsy report made public Thursday evening showed few parallels.
Though some protesters and witnesses claimed Vonderrit D. Myers, who died at the scene Wednesday night, was unarmed just as Brown was, the incident report describes an intense struggle and exchange of gunfire between Myers and a 32-year-old officer off-duty and working for a private security company. The report said the officer withheld gunfire until Myers shot at him.
The officer still has not been identified. He has been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of the investigation.
Peter Cohen, an attorney for Myers in a pending criminal matter, spoke on behalf of the family Thursday night. “It’s their only son and they miss him. He went out to buy a sandwich and got shot. They are obviously very upset.”
Myers was well known in the neighborhood, and workers at the Shaw Market said they saw Myers just moments before he was killed.
“I knew him from when he was three or four years old,” said Berhe Beyene, who has been manager of the local market and deli for 14 years. “And I made him the sandwich he had for his last supper.”
Details of an autopsy of Myers were released Thursday night, revealing that he was shot once in the head and six or seven times in his lower body, according to the city of St. Louis City Medical Examiner Michael A. Graham.
Early in the day Thursday, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson described in detail how the incident began when the officer was patrolling the Shaw neighborhood for Hi-Tech Security in search of several suspects who had robbed a house.
When the officer spotted three men, who then began to run, he made a U-turn, exited his car and pursued Myers who was “holding his waistband, causing the officer to believe the suspect had a gun,” the report said.
Myers moved toward the officer, got into a physical altercation with him, then ran up a hill, the report said.
“The officer wanted to be certain what the suspect had was a gun, and did not immediately fire at the suspect,” the report said. “The suspect then turned toward the officer, pointed the gun at the officer and fired at least three rounds.”
At that point, the officer returned fire, and Myers continued to “pull the trigger,” the report said.
Dotson said that the officer returned fire 17 times.
The officer was wearing his police uniform at the time, which a police spokeswoman said is allowed under department policy.
The suspect’s 9mm handgun was recovered at the scene. The gun was reported stolen two weeks ago.
“Three projectiles” were recovered going toward the officer, down the hill, with ballistic evidence, a bullet in a vehicle, located behind the officer,” the report said.
Court records show that Myers was wearing an ankle monitor and was facing a felony weapons charge and a misdemeanor charge for resisting arrest. He had pleaded not guilty to both charges and was scheduled for trial Nov. 17.
Police reported no significant violence during the protests that sprang up Wednesday night.
Chris King, a community leader and editor of the St. Louis American newspaper, said he spoke with Dotson and said the physical evidence seems to support the officer’s account of what happened at the scene.
He credited Dotson with quickly disclosing details of the event.
“The things that drove people crazy about Ferguson was Mike Brown laid on the ground for hours. There was no police report.”
Kindy reported from Washington. Alice R. Crites, Krissah Thompson, Robert Samuels, Fred Barbash and Abby Phillip in Washington contributed to this report.