Antonio Martin shooting: 'This is not like Ferguson', says mayor as police claim teenager pulled gun on officer

Police release video footage they say show officer was acting in self defence

Andrew Buncombe
Wednesday 24 December 2014 16:43
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St Louis County Police chief Col Jon Belmar at a press conference earlier this year
St Louis County Police chief Col Jon Belmar at a press conference earlier this year

Police in St Louis have defended themselves in the aftermath of the shooting of a black teenager who they said had pointed a handgun at an officer and made “bad choices”. The local mayor said it was "not like Ferguson".

Still reeling from the protests that erupted following the August shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson and the more recent decision not to charge the officer involved in the incident, police released video footage they said supported their claim that the white officer involved in the latest shooting in the St Louis suburb of Berkeley was acting in self-defence.

The footage taken late on Tuesday night, which appeared to show someone raising what appeared to be a gun, stops before the actual shooting of 18-year-old Antonio Martin. Police said they were trying to obtain additional footage. The officer was not wearing a personal camera and the video camera installed in the patrol car was not working, police said. An independent prosecutor is investigating the circumstances of the incident.

The Mayor of Berkeley, Theodore Hoskins, said the incident was not the same as that which had played out in Ferguson in August. He said while Ferguson was a predominantly black town with a white mayor and white police chief, Berkeley had a Black mayor and a Black police chief. “We’re different than Ferguson,” said Mr Hoskins.

But he did say he understood the anger that has emanated from Berkeley’s Black residents. “We all said the same thing [on Tuesday night],” Mr Hoskins said at a press conference. “A white policeman killing a black man. When does this stop?”

At his own press conference on Wednesday morning, Col Jon Belmar, the chief of St Louis County Police, said Mr Martin, the young man who was shot dead, was “known” to the force and had been arrested three times since he was 17. He said the incidents involved armed robbery, assault and the illegal use of a weapon.

Police try to control a crowd on the lot of a gas station

He said that a 9mm pistol recovered from the scene and purportedly carried by Mr Martin, bore a serial number that had been “defaced”. It suggested the weapon was stolen and may have been traded for some sort of “contraband”, said Mr Belmar, who said Mr Martin had not discharged his gun.

He said that the officer, who has not been named, had six years experience and was responding to reports of a robbery when he saw two men at a Mobil petrol station on Berkeley’s North Hanley Road and approached them.

The police chief said one of the two men had pointed a handgun at the officer, and the officer responded by firing three shots, one of which hit Mr Martin. He said the officer believed he had responded with what he thought was commensurate force at the time, and said most “of us would feel in imminent danger of losing our lives at that point”.

“Our hearts certainly go out to the family, but bad choices were made,” he added. “This individual could have complied with the officer, he could have run away, he could have dropped the gun. Things did not have to end with him approaching an officer with a 9mm pistol in his hand.”

Between 200 and 300 people gathered at the scene after the incident, Mr Belmar said, adding that bricks were thrown at police officers and three explosive devices set off. The New York Times said Berkeley, a mostly black suburb with about 9,000 residents, was among one of dozens of small, working-class municipalities that surround St Louis.

Police officers forming a line as they cordon off the site

The family of Mr Martin said had been left the family home on Tuesday evening and had gone to see his girlfriend. His mother, Toni Martin, said her son had been expelled from school but was trying to get his life back on track.

"They won’t let me see my baby,” Toni Martin, sobbed to the the KMOV news channel as she stood on the garage forecourt where her son had been killed. “They got my baby lying out there. He has been out there for two hours.”

Mr Belmar said two witnesses had already given statements to the police. The police are looking for the friend of the victim who fled the scene. He said two officers had been injured in the clashes between police and protesters that followed. Results from a post-mortem examination of Mr Martin’s body had not yet been released.

Mr Belmar said the officer involved in the incident had been issued with a body camera but that he was not wearing it at the time. He said the police car was was also fitted with a video camera but it is only activated when the car’s red lights were flashing, and they had not been at the time.

However, he said he believed the surveillance footage from the petrol was “really pretty good”. “I think we have learned a lot from August, September and from December,” said Mr Belmar, referring to the protests in Ferguson, located just a few miles away.

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