21 Aug 2014

Officer suspended for pointing gun

6:42 pm on 21 August 2014

A Missouri police officer has been suspended indefinitely for pointing a semi-automatic assault rifle at a peaceful demonstrator as tensions flared during protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

The incident today punctuated the 11th straight night of racially charged demonstrations in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, since Michel Brown, 18, was slain by a white police officer on 9 August. It underscored what many have criticised as heavy-handed and unprofessional police tactics that have helped stoke continuing civil unrest.

In video footage of the episode, the white officer in question, wide-eyed and agitated, is seen pointing his rifle at numerous demonstrators and members of the media.

According to an official account from the St. Louis County Police Department, the unnamed policeman from the neighboring community of St. Ann leveled his weapon at a Ferguson protester "after a verbal exchange". A sergeant then immediately took action, forcing the officer to lower the weapon and escorting him away from the area, Reuters reports.

US Attorney General Eric Holder,(left) with Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Patrol.

US Attorney General Eric Holder,(left) with Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Patrol. Photo: AFP

Meanwhile, US Attorney-General Eric Holder has met Michael Brown's parents and promised a "full, fair and independent" investigation into the death. Earlier, he met town officials and toured Featherston, talking to residents.

On Wednesday night, protesters again gathered on the streets of Ferguson. Police said they had arrested 47 people on Tuesday, but said the violence had largely abated, the BBC reports.

Community leaders have continued to appeal for calm and healing. In an open letter published in the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper this week, Eric Holder said that the justice department "will defend the right of protesters to peacefully demonstrate".

However, he added that "violence cannot be condoned" and urged Ferguson residents to condemn "the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord".

Mr Holder said violent acts had been committed by "a very small minority, in many cases individuals from outside Ferguson".

Reports suggest that he is considering opening a broader investigation into policing in Ferguson in general, following several allegations of police misconduct.

Many local residents have demanded that police officer Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown, should be arrested and prosecuted. He has been placed on administrative leave with pay.

The St Louis County prosecutor's office said it would present evidence against Mr Wilson to a grand jury. The jury will then determine whether or not to charge him with a crime.

Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: AFP

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