FERGUSON, MO.—U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Sunday ordered a federal medical examiner to perform another autopsy on the body of a black Missouri teenager whose fatal shooting by a white police officer has spurred a week of rancorous and sometimes violent protests in suburban St. Louis.
Department of Justice spokesman Brian Fallon cited a request by family members and the “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding the case of 18-year-old Michael Brown in explaining decision.
“This independent examination will take place as soon as possible,” Fallon said in a statement. “Even after it is complete, Justice Department officials still plan to take the state-performed autopsy into account in the course of their investigation.”
The Justice Department already had deepened its civil rights investigation of the shooting. Officials said a day earlier that 40 FBI agents were going door-to-door gathering information in the Ferguson, Missouri, neighbourhood where an unarmed Brown was shot to death in the middle of the street on Aug. 9.
David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the criminal civil rights section of Miami’s U.S. Attorney’s office, said a federally conducted autopsy “more closely focused on entry point of projectiles, defensive wounds and bruises” might help that investigation, and that the move is “not that unusual.”
He also said federal authorities want to calm any public fears that no action will be taken on the case.
Holder’s latest announcement followed the first night of a state-imposed curfew in Ferguson, which ended with tear gas and seven arrests after police dressed in riot gear used armoured vehicles to disperse defiant protesters.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said protesters weren’t the reason for the escalated police reaction early Sunday morning after the midnight curfew took effect, but a report of people who had broken into a barbecue restaurant and taken to the roof, and a man who flashed a handgun in the street as armoured vehicles approached the crowd of protesters.
Also overnight, a man was shot and critically wounded in the same area, but not by police; authorities were searching for the shooter. Someone also shot at a police car, officials said.
The protests have been going on since Brown’s death heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and mostly white Ferguson Police Department, leading to several run-ins between police and protesters and prompting Missouri’s governor to put the Highway Patrol in charge of security.
Ferguson Police waited six days to publicly reveal the name of the officer and documents alleging Brown robbed a convenience store before he was killed, though Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer did not know Brown was a suspect when he encountered him walking in the street with a friend.
Scott Olson / GETTY IMAGES
People wait for reaction from police after they refused to honour the midnight curfew on Aug. 17.
Gov. Jay Nixon, who imposed the curfew after declaring a state of emergency as protests turned violent to start the weekend, said Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week” that he was not aware the police were going to release surveillance video from the store where Brown is alleged to have stolen a $49 box of cigars.
“It’s appeared to cast aspersions on a young man that was gunned down in the street. It made emotions raw,” Nixon said.
In announcing the curfew, Nixon said many protesters were making themselves heard peacefully but the state would not allow looters to endanger the community. Johnson, the Highway Patrol captain, had said police would not enforce the curfew with armoured trucks and tear gas and would communicate with protesters and give them ample opportunity to leave. Local officers faced strong criticism earlier in the week for their use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters.
As the curfew deadline arrived early Sunday, most protesters left the streets, but those who remained protesters refused to leave the area as officers spoke through a loudspeaker: “You are in violation of a state-imposed curfew. You must disperse immediately.”
As officers put on gas masks, a chant from the distant crowd emerged: “We have the right to assemble peacefully.”
A moment later, police began firing canisters into the crowd. Highway Patrol Spokesman Lt. John Hotz initially said police only used smoke, but later told The Associated Press they also used tear gas canisters.
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