By Jim Salter
FERGUSON, Mo. — Anger spurred by the death of a black teenager at the hands of a white police officer boiled over again when protesters stormed into a Missouri convenience store — the same one Michael Brown was accused of robbing.
Police and about 200 protesters clashed in Ferguson, Missouri, late Friday after another tense day in the St. Louis suburb that began with authorities identifying the officer who fatally shot Brown as 28-year-old Darren Wilson. At the same time, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson released documents alleging Brown had stolen a $48.99 box of cigars from the convenience store and strong-armed a man on his way out.
Just before midnight, some in what had been a large, rowdy but mostly peaceful crowd broke into that same small store, Ferguson Market & Liquor, and began looting it, Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said. Some protesters yelled at the aggressors to stop what they were doing, and about a dozen people eventually helped protect the convenience store.
Teams of police officers holding rifles and dressed in riot gear used their cars to block a one-mile stretch of West Florissant Avenue, the street at the center of the protests. Occasional firecrackers sounded in the distance.
Some in the crowd began throwing rocks and other objects at police, Johnson said. One officer was hurt; details were not immediately available. Johnson said police backed off to try and ease the tension. No arrests were made.
"We had to evaluate the security of the officers there and also the rioters," Johnson said. "We just felt it was better to move back."
Johnson said he believed other stores were hit by looters. The crowd that had surrounded the convenience store dispersed but continued north. Two men in white undershirts threw debris through the windows of a liquor store and could be seen walking through the store as an alarm wailed.
Brown's death had previously ignited four days of clashes with furious protesters. Tensions eased Thursday after Gov. Jay Nixon turned oversight of the protests over to the Missouri Highway Patrol. Gone were the police in riot gear and armored vehicles, replaced by the new patrol commander who personally walked through the streets with demonstrators. But Friday night marked a resurgence of the unrest that had momentarily abated.
Local officers faced strong criticism earlier in the week for their use of tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters. Johnson said one tear gas canister was deployed Friday night after the group of rioters became unruly.
Jackson's decision to spell out the allegations that Brown committed the robbery, and his releasing of surveillance video, angered Brown's family and many in the community.
"They have attempted to taint the investigation," U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay told protesters through a bullhorn Friday night. "They are trying to influence a jury pool by the stunt they pulled today."
Family attorney Daryl Parks acknowledged the man in the footage "appears to be" Brown. But he and others said Brown's family was blindsided by the allegations and release of the footage. They said that even if it was Brown, the crime didn't justify the shooting after Brown put up his hands in surrender, as witnesses describe.
Another family attorney, Benjamin Crump, said police "are choosing to disseminate information that is very strategic to try to help them justify the execution-style" killing.
The surveillance video shows a man wearing a ball cap, shorts and white T-shirt grabbing a much shorter man by his shirt near the store's door. A police report alleges Brown grabbed the man who had come from behind the store counter and "forcefully pushed him back" into a display rack.
Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, did not know the teen was a robbery suspect at the time of the shooting and stopped Brown and a companion "because they were walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic," Jackson said Friday. Police said they found evidence of the stolen merchandise on Brown's body.
Wilson is a six-year police veteran — two in neighboring Jennings and four in Ferguson — and had no previous complaints filed against him, Jackson said, describing him as "a gentle, quiet man" who had been "an excellent officer."
The Ferguson Police Department has refused to say anything about Wilson's whereabouts, and Associated Press reporters were unable to contact him at any addresses or phone numbers listed under that name in the St. Louis area.
Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said it could be weeks before the investigation wraps up.
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster on Friday to take over the case, saying he did not believe McCulloch could be objective. Koster said Missouri law does not allow it unless McCulloch opts out, and McCulloch spokesman Ed Magee said the prosecutor has no plans to surrender the case.
Also Friday, the U.S. Justice Department said that FBI agents had conducted several interviews with witnesses as part of a civil-rights investigation into Brown's death. In the days ahead, the agents planned to canvass the neighborhood for more information, the statement said.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press