FERGUSON, Mo. – Police used tear gas to clear protesters off the streets late Sunday, a week after demonstrations against the fatal police shooting of a black Missouri teenager filled this St. Louis suburb with angry, defiant crowds.
The latest confrontation unfolded hours after Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to perform another autopsy on a black Missouri teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer.
A preliminary private autopsy found that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.
As night fell in Ferguson, another peaceful protest quickly deteriorated after marchers pushed toward one end of a street. Police pushed them back by repeatedly firing tear gas, and the streets were clear before the curfew took effect at midnight.
The “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown and a request by Brown’s family members prompted the Justice Department’s decision to conduct a third autopsy, agency spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
The examination was to take place as soon as possible, Fallon said.
The results of a state-performed autopsy would be taken into account along with the federal examination in the Justice Department investigation, Fallon said.
Dr. Michael Baden, a former New York City chief medical examiner, told The New York Times that one of the bullets entered the top of Brown’s skull, suggesting that his head was bent forward when he suffered a fatal injury.
Brown was also shot four times in the right arm, and all the bullets were fired into his front, Baden said.
The Justice Department already had deepened its civil rights investigation into the shooting. A day earlier, officials said 40 FBI agents were going door-to-door gathering information in the Ferguson neighbourhood where Brown, who was unarmed, was shot to death Aug. 9.
A federally conducted autopsy “more closely focused on entry point of projectiles, defensive wounds and bruises” might help that investigation, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the criminal civil rights section of Miami’s U.S. attorney’s office. The move is “not that unusual,” he added.
Federal authorities also want to calm any public fears that no action will be taken on the case, Weinstein said.
Back in Ferguson, the latest clashes erupted three hours before the midnight curfew imposed by Gov. Jay Nixon. It was not clear why officers acted ahead of the deadline for people to be off the street. Police shouted over a bullhorn that the protest was no longer peaceful.
Officers in riot gear ordered all the protesters to disperse. Many of the marchers retreated, but a group of about 100 stood defiantly about two blocks away until getting hit by another volley of tear gas.
Protesters laid a line of cinder blocks across the street near the QuikTrip convenience store that was burned down last week. It was an apparent attempt to block police vehicles, but the vehicles easily plowed through. Someone set a nearby trash bin on fire, and gunshots rang out several blocks away.
Within two hours, most people had been cleared off West Florissant Avenue, one of the community’s main thoroughfares. The streets remained empty as the curfew began. It was to remain in effect until 5 a.m.
Earlier in the day, Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who agency in now in charge of security in Ferguson, said he had met members of Brown’s family and the experience “brought tears to my eyes and shame to my heart.”
“When this is over,” he told the crowd, “I’m going to go in my son’s room. My black son, who wears his pants sagging, who wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms, but that’s my baby.”
Johnson added: “We all need to thank the Browns for Michael. Because Michael’s going to make it better for our sons to be better black men.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton told the rally Brown’s death was a “defining moment for this country.”
Sharpton said he wants Congress to stop programs that provide military-style weaponry to police departments. He said he expects police to “smear” the slain teenager, his family and his attorneys. He also condemned the recent violence and looting in Ferguson.
The protests have been going on since Brown’s death heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and the mostly white Ferguson Police Department, leading to several run-ins between police and protesters and prompting Missouri’s governor to put the state highway patrol in charge of security.
Ferguson police waited six days to publicly reveal the name of the officer and documents alleging Brown robbed a convenience store shortly before he was killed. Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer did not know Brown was a robbery suspect when he encountered him walking in the street with a friend.
Nixon said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he was not aware the police were going to release surveillance video from the store where Brown is alleged to have stolen a $49 box of cigars.
“It’s appeared to cast aspersions on a young man that was gunned down in the street. It made emotions raw,” Nixon said.
Police have said little about the encounter between Brown and the officer, except to say that it involved a scuffle in which the officer was injured and Brown was shot. Witnesses say the teenager had his hands in the air as the officer fired multiple rounds.
“When you’re exhausted, when you’re out of resources, when you’re out of ammunition, you surrender,” Brown’s uncle, pastor Charles Ewing, told worshippers during a Sunday sermon at Jennings Mason Temple in Ferguson. “He surrendered and yet he died.”
The officer who shot Brown has been identified as Darren Wilson, a six-year police veteran who had no previous complaints against him. Wilson has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, and the department has refused to say anything about his whereabouts. Associated Press reporters have been unable to contact him at any addresses or phone numbers listed under that name in the St. Louis area.
Also Sunday, about 150 people gathered in St. Louis to show support for Wilson. The crowd protested outside a TV station because it had broadcast from in front of the officer’s home.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the station, KSDK, later apologized. Other in the group, composed mostly of police and relatives of officers, carried signs urging people to wait for all the facts.
Associated Press writers Darlene Superville in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and Eric Tucker in Brewster, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.