DEVELOPING: Ferguson Police Have Arrested Suspect in Recent Shootings

March 15th 2015

Alex Mierjeski

UPDATE 3/15/15 - 2:54 ET: St. Louis County Police announced Sunday they have arrested a suspect in connection with the shooting of two police officers during a protest shortly after midnight on Thursday in Ferguson. 

At a press conference in Clayton Sunday afternoon, County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch named the suspect, 20-year-old Jeffery Williams, an alleged protester who has been charged with two accounts of assault in the first degree, one count of firing a weapon from a vehicle, and three counts of armed criminal action. Numerous leaders of the Ferguson protest community have stated that Williams was not part of the protests.

According to McCulloch, Williams admitted to firing a .40mm handgun, but said he was aiming at someone else, hitting the two police officers by accident. The nature of the alleged dispute is still under investigation. "We're not sure we buy that part of it," McCulloch added. Williams was apprehended with the help of the public's information, and a handgun matching the bullet casings on the scene was found in his residence through a search warrant, McCulloch said Thursday.  

The two officers, one from Webster Grove, the other from St. Louis County, were hit with gunfire just as the crowd of protesters was beginning to break up last week. The Webster Grove officer was shot below his right eye, and the other officer was hit in the shoulder, according to St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar.

One livestreamer, Heather DiMian, recorded this video, in which you can clearly hear the shots: (h/t Riverfront Times)

“Fortunately, with both officers, we don’t have any remarkable, long-term injuries,” Belmar said to the media. “By God’s grace we didn’t lose two officers last night.”

Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement on Friday:

This heinous assault on two brave law enforcement officers was inexcusable and repugnant. I condemn violence against any public safety officials in the strongest terms, and the Department of Justice will never accept any threats or violence directed at those who serve and protect our communities—from this cowardly action, to the killing of an officer in Philadelphia last week while he was buying a game for his son, to the tragic loss of a Deputy U.S. Marshal in the line of duty in Louisiana earlier this week. Such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that nonviolent protesters in Ferguson and around the country have been working towards for the past several months. We wish these injured officers a full and speedy recovery. We stand ready to offer any possible aid to an investigation into this incident, including the department’s full range of investigative resources. And we will continue to stand unequivocally against all acts of violence against cops whenever and wherever they occur.

At a press conference early Thursday, Belmar said that “These police officers were standing there and they were shot, just because they were police officers,” telling reporters that “the night was fairly uneventful until about midnight.”

According to an eyewitness account, quoted in the LA Times, about three shots were fired. “It was the first time I’d heard a bullet whiz and pass my head,” Tony Rice, a Ferguson activist, told the newspaper, adding that several police shields were lying on the ground, dropped by officers taking cover.

Tensions have been running high in Ferguson after police chief Thomas Jackson stepped down Wednesday in the wake of a scathing Justice Department report that has caused the departure of several high-ranking officials so far.

“As I have said all along, we can not sustain this forever without problems – that’s not an indictment on everybody that’s out there expressing their first amendment rights,” continued Belmar. “But what we have seen in law enforcement that this is a very very very dangerous environment for the officers to work in regarding the amount of gunfire that we’ve experienced out there."

At the press conference Sunday, officials confirmed that the injured officers were "getting better, not worse," and had been informed of Williams' arrest. 

For more on Ferguson, read ATTN's reporting here.

From CNN: