St. Louis County Police have arrested a suspect they believe is responsible for shooting two police officers last week. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Williams May Not Have Been Shooting At Police & Wasn’t a Protester
Two officers, one a 41-year-old St. Louis County police officer the other a 32-year-old officer from Webster Groves were shot on March 12, the Webster Groves officer left with a bullet lodged by his ear.
A weapon was recovered when Williams, 20, was arrested, and officials have tied that weapon to shell casings obtained at the scene.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said during a press conference Sunday that Williams had been a demonstrator at the protests held but may not have been firing at the police:
“The evidence we have supports the charge that he may have been firing at someone else and struck the police.”
Both officers were treated and released at a local hospital. Williams has been charged with first-degree assault, which is a class A felony. He has been assigned a $300,000 bond.
The weapon was a 9 millimeter handgun, and the working theory is that Williams had fired from a car at the top of the hill where protests were winding down.
McCulloch said that Williams had admitted firing the shots, but that the two police who were injured may not have been the targets.
“There were civilians located between where the shooter was located and where the police were.”
The charges could result in life in prison.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Williams was not one of the protesters. Bishop Derrick Robinson, a protest organizer, told CNN he visited Williams in jail. Robinson said Williams claimed he had been robbed by one of the protesters near the police department. Robinson told CNN:
I asked him why would he say that he was a protester because it makes us look bad — because so many things that we’ve done to rebuild our community. It sets us like five steps back to say that it was a protester who did it, but he admitted to me that he’d never protested
2. There Were Dozens of Leads
County Police Chief John Belmar said during Sunday’s press conference that they had “leads pouring in,” and that County police had been assisted by all manner of law enforcement personnel and members of the community from across the east coast:
“The outpouring of support from all strata has been overwhelming.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, police swarmed a house four blocks west of the police department Thursday morning. Officers had three people, two men and a woman, in custody. They were brought out in handcuffs. Police said no one had been charged as of Thursday afternoon, but that they were questioning people.
McCulloch said there was a warrant out for Williams, who is currently on probation for receiving stolen property and had not shown up to his regularly scheduled meeting with parole officer.
McCulloch said Williams’ arrest was the direct result of assistance from the community. “There’s a lot of people out there who provided information,” he said.
Belmar said last week that there were dozens of leads and no immediately identified suspect:
“I cannot tell you at this point that an arrest is imminent. There is certainly nobody in custody.”
3. The Incident Was the Latest in a Series of Racially Charged Events
The two officers were shot outside the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department after protests following the resignation of the former police chief.
McCulloch said Williams had been present at the protests but that the crowd was in the process of dispersing when the shooting occurred.
Protesters had come together near the police station after Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson’s resignation was announced. Some arrests were made and officers, some in riot gear, had blocked off the street on both sides of the protesters, according to Twitter posts by community organizers at the scene.
A scathing Justice Department report released this month found racism in the practices of the police department and city, leading to the resignations of the Ferguson police chief, the city manager, two officers, the city’s top judge and court clerk.
The area has been a hotbed of racial tension after an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white police officer and was not charged for the shooting last summer.
4. Williams Said That It Is ‘Easy’ to Take a Life
On January 2, Williams posted on Facebook that killing was “easy:”
“It’s so easy to take somebody life…. Bt y’all niggas scared to bang….smh…….. Gotta Have da best of both worlds.”
Mike Brown, 18, was shot and killed on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, by officer Darren Wilson.
A St. Louis grand jury declined to indict Wilson and protests, including looting and vandalism, as well as more peaceful protests, went on for more than a week after the grand jury’s ruling.
The police officers shooting, however, may have been the result of a dispute, not necessarily related to Brown’s death or the grand jury’s ruling.
Williams told police that there was a dispute, and that is the working theory on which the investigation is proceeding, McCulloch said, though he indicated there was some question about the veracity of that statement:
“We’re not 100 percent sure there was a dispute.”
5. Obama Condemned the Shooting
After the shooting took place, President Barack Obama said those responsible “needed to be arrested,” and asked people on both sides to work together:
“And then what we need to do is make sure that like-minded, good-spirited people on both sides — law-enforcement who have a terrifically tough job and people who understand they don’t want to be stopped and harassed because of their race — that we’re able to work together to try and come up with some good answers.”
Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the shooter was a “damn punk” and that the attack was cowardly:
“This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson, this was a punk – a damn punk. This really disgusting and cowardly attack might have been intended to unravel any sense of progress but I hope that doesn’t happen.”