A black off-duty police officer in St. Louis, Missouri was accidentally shot by a white colleague during a gun battle between police and car theft suspects. The incident has raised questions about racism in policing.
Officers were chasing three men in a stolen white sedan when the vehicle crashed on Wednesday night, forcing the three occupants to flee and sparking a shootout with police, according tp the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The St. Louis County Police Department said the car crashed happened near the intersection of Park Lane and Astra Avenue in the North Pointe neighborhood.
Two officers, “fearing for their safety,” fired at the suspects, striking one in the ankle, according to a department summary of the shooting.
Last night in St Louis, a black off duty cop was shot by police while trying to help at the scene of a car accident https://t.co/n8GrMiCAHf
— agitator in chief (@soit_goes) June 23, 2017
On hearing the gunfire, the off-duty police officer – who lived nearby – grabbed his service weapon and hurried out to help police at the scene. Initial reports suggested the wounded officer was shot during the gun battle, but it later turned out his wound came from a separate encounter.
The 38-year-old, and an 11-year department veteran, was initially stopped by two uniformed cops and ordered to the ground before they recognized him, according to a department incident summary released on Thursday.
Just as he stood up and walked towards them, that’s when another officer arrived and fired at the off-duty cop, striking him in the arm.
The officer told investigators he feared for his safety and didn’t recognize the fellow officer as one of their own, according to KTVI-TV.
“We have a police officer standing in his own yard, who hears the commotion from the car crash on the block, comes out, and has a conversation with some of the officers on the scene who are pursuing the stolen car – and he winds up getting shot!” Rufus Tate Jr, the wound officer’s attorney, told KTVI-TV.
“This happens to be the first time in the national discourse that we are aware of where a black professional law enforcement officer is shot and treated as an ordinary black guy on the street,” Tate said. “We can see this is a real problem.”
The 36-year-old officer who fired the shot is an 8-year department veteran. Neither officer was identified by name.
“In the police report, you have so far, there is no description of any threat he received. So we have a real problem with that,” Tate said. “But this has been a national discussion for the past two years that is there is this perception that a black man is automatically to be feared.”
Seven officers involved in the incident were placed on administrative leave, as is department policy after a shooting. The department’s Force Investigative Unit is looking into the incident.
Two of the suspects were apprehended, while the third remains at large.
Prosecutors charged Deandre Chaney and Cortney Smith, both 17, with seven counts of first-degree assault, seven counts of armed criminal action, felony fleeing, and tampering. They were jailed on $500,000 cash-only bond.