2 cops shot outside Ferguson police headquarters

FERGUSON, Mo. -- Two officers were shot outside the Ferguson, Missouri police headquarters early Thursday, authorities said, as demonstrators gathered following the resignation of the city's embattled police chief in the wake of a scathing Justice Department report alleging bias in the police department and court.

A 32-year-old officer from nearby Webster Groves was shot in the face and a 41-year-old officer from St. Louis County was shot in the shoulder, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a news conference.

Both were taken to a hospital where, Belmar said, they were conscious. He said he did not have further details about their conditions but described their injuries as "serious."

"I don't know who did the shooting, to be honest with you," Belmar said, adding that he could not provide a description of the suspect or gun.

He said his "assumption" was that, based on where the officers were standing and the trajectory of the bullets, "these shots were directed exactly at my officers."

Police sources were calling the gunfire an "ambush" and said whoever fired the shots was at large, CBS St. Louis affiliate KMOV-TV reported.

The station says the two victims were standing next to each other, working crowd control.

The shots were fired shortly after midnight, with protesters gathered following the resignation of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson on Wednesday.

Before the shooting, some at the protest were chanting to show they weren't satisfied with the resignations of Jackson, and of City Manager John Shaw earlier in the week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Authorities from multiple agencies had gathered outside the department.

The protest was a familiar scene in Ferguson, which saw similar and much larger demonstrations after the shooting death of black 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer by city police officer Darren Wilson. When Wilson, who is white, was cleared in November by a state grand jury, the decision set off further protests, looting and fires. But Wednesday was the first time an officer at a protest had been shot.

The shots rang out as a crowd of about 150 people had begun to dwindle, the Post-Dispatch reported. Some protesters fell to the ground and others ran. A huge police presence, including officers in riot gear, later surrounded the department.

Bradley Rayford, who was in the crowd, told KMOV, "Bullets went right past my head. ... It was traumatic. I'm still in shock because of it.

"There were 30 - 50 protesters after that, they instantly all left. The police got their rifles out of the car, took cover and made the media duck down," he added.

Demonstrators outside Ferguson, Missouri Police Department on March 11, 2015 after announcement that city's embattled police chief was resigning
Demonstrators outside Ferguson, Missouri Police Department on March 11, 2015 after announcement that city's embattled police chief was resigning Michael B. Thomas, Getty Images

On Wednesday, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III announced the city had reached a mutual separation agreement with Jackson that will pay Jackson one year of his nearly $96,000 annual salary and health coverage. Jackson's resignation becomes effective March 19.

Jackson was the sixth employee to resign or be fired since the Justice Department report last week cleared Wilson of federal civil rights charges in the Brown shooting. Wilson has since resigned. A separate Justice Department report found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in the city police department.

Jackson had previously resisted calls by protesters and some of Missouri's top elected leaders to step down over his handling of Brown's shooting and the weeks of protests that followed. He was widely criticized from the outset, both for an aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency's erratic and infrequent releases of key information.

He took nearly a week to publicly identify Wilson as the shooter and then further heightened tension in the community by releasing Wilson's name at the same time as store security video that police said showed Brown stealing a box of cigars and shoving a clerk only a short time before his death.

During a 12-minute news conference, Knowles said Jackson resigned after "a lot of soul-searching" about how the community could heal from the racial unrest stemming from the fatal shooting last summer.

"The chief is the kind of honorable man you don't have to go to," Knowles said. "He comes to you when he knows that this is something we have to seriously discuss."

The acting head of the Justice Department's civil rights division released a statement saying the U.S. government remains committed to reaching a "court-enforceable agreement" to address Ferguson's "unconstitutional practices," regardless of who's in charge of the city.

A U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday the Justice Department had not pressured or encouraged Jackson to resign during meetings with him but had also not resisted the idea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing meetings between the Justice Department and the police department.

The resignation was welcomed by state lawmakers who represent Ferguson.

"There would be a lot of people that would approve of that," said Democratic state Rep. Sharon Pace, who represents the neighborhood where Brown was shot.

Jackson oversaw the Ferguson force for nearly five years before the shooting that stirred months of unrest across the St. Louis region and drew global attention to the predominantly black city of 21,000.

In addition to Jackson, Ferguson's court. clerk was fired last week and two police officers resigned. The judge who oversaw the court system also resigned, and the City Council on Tuesday agreed to a separation agreement with the city manager.