FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — The FBI said it opened an investigation Monday into the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police in suburban St. Louis, a day after tension surrounding the case erupted in unrest following a candlelight vigil for the teen.
Questions loomed over the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who police said was unarmed and shot multiple times Saturday after an altercation with an officer in Ferguson. It’s unclear whether Brown or a man he was with was involved in the alleged scuffle, and authorities have been vague about what led an officer to open fire.
But Dorian Johnson told WALB-TV that he and Brown were walking home from a convenience storewhen a police officer told them to get out of the street and onto the sidewalk. Johnson said they kept walking, which caused the officer to confront them from his car and then outside his car.
Johnson said the officer fired, and he and Brown were scared and ran away.
“He shot again, and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air and he started to get down,” Johnson said. “But the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots.”
“We wasn’t causing harm to nobody. We had no weapons on us at all,” Johnson told the television station.
The St. Louis County Police Department, which is leading the investigation, refused to discuss Johnson’s remarks, citing the ongoing investigation. But County Police Chief Jon Belmar has previously said that an officer encountered Brown and another man outside an apartment complex in Ferguson, and that one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car and they struggled before the shooting.
The FBI is looking into possible civil rights violations arising from the shooting, said Cheryl Mimura, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s St. Louis field office. But she noted that the FBI would be investigating such a shooting regardless of the public attention surrounding it.
Nearly three dozen people were arrested after tensions around the case following a candlelight vigil Sunday night, as crowds looted and burned stores, vandalized vehicles and taunted officers who tried to block access to parts of the city.
Deanel Trout, a 14-year resident of Ferguson, said he was convinced the troublemakers were largely from outside Ferguson and that they had used Brown’s death and the vigil as an opportunity to steal.
“Most came here for a peaceful protest but it takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch. … I can understand the anger and unrest but I can’t understand the violence and looting,” Trout, 53, said.
St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman said 32 people were arrested for various infractions, including assault, burglary and theft. Schellman said two officers suffered minor injuries and that there were no reports of civilians hurt.
Several businesses were looted, including a check-cashing store, a boutique and a small grocery store. People took items from a sporting goods store and a cellphone retailer, and carted rims away from a tire store. Some climbed atop police cars as the officers with riot shields and batons stood stoic nearby, trying to restrict access to the most seriously affected areas.
There no immediate reports of serious injuries. Pat Washington, a spokeswoman for St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, said tear gas had been used.
“The small group of people are creating a huge mess,” Mayor James Knowles said. “Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help. … We’re only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors.”
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson told KSDK-TV that there’s no video footage of the shooting from the apartment complex, or from any police cruiser dashboard cameras or body-worn cameras that the department recently bought but hasn’t yet put to use.
Jackson said the second person has not been arrested or charged and it wasn’t clear if he was armed.
Jackson said blood samples were taken from Brown and the officer who shot him. Toxicology tests can take weeks to complete.
Earlier Sunday, a few hundred protesters gathered outside Ferguson Police headquarters. Some marched into an adjacent police building chanting “Don’t shoot me” while holding their hands in the air. Officers stood at the top of a staircase, but didn’t use force; the crowd eventually left. A similar protest that attracted about 250 people was held Monday morning.
Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, said she didn’t understand why police didn’t subdue her high school graduate son with a club or stun gun, and that the officer involved should be fired and prosecuted.
“I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty,” she said, fighting back tears.
The killing drew criticism from some civil rights leaders, who referred to the 2012 racially charged shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a Florida neighborhood watch organizer who was acquitted of murder charges.
Brown’s family planned to speak further at a Monday afternoon news conference with their attorney, Benjamin Crump, who also represented Martin’s family.
“We’re outraged because yet again a young African-American man has been killed by law enforcement,” said John Gaskin, who serves on both the St. Louis County and national boards of directors for the NAACP.
Ferguson’s population of about 21,000 people is almost 70 percent black. The race of the officer has not been disclosed. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Associated Press writer Jim Suhr in St. Louis contributed to this report.