A black off-duty police officer has been shot by a white colleague who “feared for his safety” in the US.
The white officer was among those chasing gunmen in a stolen car when the officer with 11 years of service came out of his home armed with his police-issue gun to help.
He was shot in the arm and was taken to hospital in St Louis, Missouri.
The St Louis Metropolitan Police Department described the shooting as a “friendly fire incident” but the injured officer’s lawyer said he had been “automatically feared” as a black man.
Acting police commissioner Lawrence O’Toole said officers were pursuing a stolen car when three suspects inside opened fire on Wednesday night.
They chased the vehicle until it crashed, with the men getting out in with guns and attempting to flee on foot.
“Fearing for their safety, the two officers fired shots at the suspects, striking suspect one in the ankle,” Mr O’Toole said.
“The victim/police officer was off-duty and inside his nearby residence when he heard the commotion and responded outside, armed with his department-issued weapon.
“Two officers challenged the off-duty officer and ordered him to the ground, to which he complied.”
During the process, the two officers recognised their 38-year-old colleague and told him to stand up and walk towards them.
But a third officer, a 36-year-old white man who had been in the force for eight years, allegedly misinterpreted the scene.
“At this time, a responding officer just arriving in the area observed this, and fearing for his safety – and apparently not recognising the off-duty officer – discharged a shot, striking the off-duty officer in the arm,” Mr O'Toole said.
“He was conveyed to a hospital, listed as stable and has since been released.”
Two of the suspects, both 17-year-old black boys, were arrested at the scene and had their guns seized, while a third escaped and remains at large.
The officer who opened fire and six others have been placed on administrative leave as a probe by the Force Investigation Unit continues.
The victim’s lawyer, Rufus J Tate Jr, told local media that the shooting was part of a wider problem in the US with the perception of black men.
“This is the first time that we are aware that a black professional, in law enforcement, himself being shot and treated as an ordinary black guy on the street – this is a real problem,” he said, according to Newsweek.
“This been a national discussion for the past two years. There is this perception that a black man is automatically feared.”
The shooting came days after protests swept Minnesota over the acquittal of a police officer who shot a black man dead in front of his girlfriend and daughter in an incident broadcast on Facebook Live.
Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter after claiming he feared for his life as Philando Castile reached for his wallet to produce his firearms licence.
His death was one of a number of fatal police shootings in recent years that have sparked some protests across the US.
Riots and unrest flared in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson in 2014 after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot dead by a white officer.
Donald Trump said he was “very troubled” by the killing of an unarmed black man in Oklahoma on the campaign trail but has been criticised for failing to denounce police brutality and shootings since taking office.
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