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Protesters confront police at site where Berkeley officer killed suspect who pulled gun

Protesters confront police at site where Berkeley officer killed suspect who pulled gun

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Updated at 9:20 p.m. with details about protest:

BERKELEY • Several dozen protesters gathered tonight near the Mobil gas station where an 18-year-old man was fatally shot Tuesday night.

The protesters chanted and screamed at officers who were guarding the station. 

Some of the protesters marched from there onto Interstate 170 nearby, at times closing the highway. Police used pepper spray on some of the protesters.

The crowd included the mother and the stepfather of the teenager who was killed.

The protest came a night after a Berkeley police officer fired at least three shots at a suspect who pulled a gun on him.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a Wednesday morning news conference said the officer was responding to a report of stealing at a Mobil on the Run station about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday when the deadly shooting happened.

The officer saw two men on the parking lot in the 6800 block of North Hanley Road and began talking with them.

Belmar said one of the men approached the driver's side of the vehicle.

The officer's attorney, Brian Millikan, said one of the men spoke with the officer, while the other kept wandering away despite the officer's commands to stay near him, Millikan said.

One of the individuals "produced a pistol with his arm straight out, pointing it straight at the officer kind of from across the hood," Belmar said. He said the officer, who had a flashlight in his left hand, was near his driver's side door and the armed individual was near the headlights on the passenger side. 

At that point, the chief said, the officer got his handgun, "and fired what we think is three shots." Belmar said one round struck the suspect, Antonio D. Martin, 18, and one struck a tire of the police car. Police said they did not immediately know where the third round went.

The officer, who is 34 and white, is a six-year veteran of the department, Belmar said. He was placed on administrative leave, which is standard. 

While expressing condolences to the family of the man who was killed, Belmar noted "bad choices were made."

"This individual could have complied with the officer. He could have ran away, he could have dropped the gun, all sort of things could have happened. It didn't have to end with him approaching the officer with an arm extended and a 9 mm pistol in his hand," Belmar said.

Millikan said his client recounted the details to him several hours after the shooting. 

"The other guy was doing the talking, and as the cop starts talking, the suspect starts walking away again," Millikan said. "At that point, the cop says, 'Hey, come back here,' and he turns around, pulls a gun from his left pant pocket."

"He's trying to process all of this, and the suspect raises it, points it at him. The cop pulls his weapon and starts backpedaling and fired three or four shots. It happened that quickly. He doesn't understand why the suspect's gun didn't fire. I'm not sure if he tried to pull the trigger and it jammed."

Belmar said as the officer backpedaled, he stumbled and dropped the flashlight.

Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins, in a news conference later Wednesday morning, said it may have been a blessing in disguise. 

"I think the officer, because he stumbled, may have saved his (own) life," he said. 

Millikan said it's possible that his client was being set up for an ambush. Store employees called 911 after the suspects stole from the store, Millikan said.

"Their behavior is certainly bizarre, and it wouldn't surprise me at all, in the environment we are in, that's for sure," Millikan said.

Belmar said the officer was given a body camera at the start of his shift but for whatever reason, hadn't put it on. The officer, in a debriefing with police, indicated he was doing something else when the body camera was handed to him at roll call.

"He said he clipped it somewhere in the car, didn't put it on, and next thing you know you're here," Belmar said, adding it can happen, particularly with new equipment if you aren't used to it. 

Millikan would not comment on why his client was not wearing his body camera at the time of the shooting, "There could be some internal issues," he said.

Hoskins said the cameras are new to the officers, but once they are better trained on them, there will be penalties for not putting them on.

Belmar said he did not believe the car's dash-camera was activated. 

Hoskins, Millikan and the chief all said they were glad the incident was captured by surveillance cameras. St. Louis County police  released one of those videos Wednesday morning.  

"Having video really helps in this situation because it puts to rest all of the false narratives that would be out there," Millikan said.

He did not reveal his client's name. "It doesn't do anything but subject him to threats and puts him and his family in harm," he said.

Millkan said his client was calm, but shaken.

"On the one hand, you know you have followed proper procedures and policies, and, on the other hand, these guys are human beings, and on the day before Christmas, he had to take somebody's life," Millikan said. "He's no different than anyone else involved in the situation. It's a traumatic experience and something he'll be doing a lot of reflecting on for the rest of his life.

"He did certainly express remorse that the situation happened at all."

Millkan also represents St. Louis police officer Jason Flanery, who killed VonDerrit Myers, 18, in the city's Shaw neighborhood in October.

Police first said the officer was making a routine business check when the shooting happened; Belmar later said he was responding to a stealing call.

Belmar could not say whether that stealing call originated from the gas station, although he said it seemed likely. He also could not say whether the officer had a description of the suspect or suspects that were involved. 

Martin was pronounced dead at the scene by EMS units. Berkeley police called the county's crimes against persons unit at 11:45 p.m., and they arrived at the scene at 12:15 a.m., Belmar said.

The body, which was covered and concealed from the crowd by a partition, was removed from the scene at 1:40 a.m., Belmar said. Belmar said it is pretty standard to have a body at a scene for two hours while police investigate.

Belmar said the 9 mm gun found on the suspect had five rounds in the magazine and one round in the chamber. He said the gun's serial number had been filed off, which could suggest the gun was stolen.

Belmar said he notified St. Louis  County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch of the shooting, and McCulloch assigned a prosecutor to the case.

The chief called the shooting a tragedy for both the family of the man killed and for the police officer. 

"These are nothing but tragedies," Belmar said. "This is a family right now that, regardless of the decisions that this individual made, are without a family member this Christmas season. This is also a tragedy for the police officer. He will carry the weight of this for the rest of his life, certainly for the rest of his career."

"This really underscores the task that our police officers across the nation have to deal with day in and day out as they answer these calls in our community," he added.

Police confirmed Martin's name later Wednesday morning. Belmar said he had a criminal record, with charges including three assaults, armed robbery, armed criminal action and multiple uses of weapons since he was 17.

A woman at the scene overnight, Toni Martin-Green, confirmed the victim was her son.

Police said they did not know who the second person was, but they called him a "person of interest" and asked for the public's help to find him.

They said two bystanders on the Mobil parking lot were witnesses.

Belmar said the officer had one prior use of force incident in 2011 or 2012 that involved a struggle over the officer's gun. An armed suspect had barricaded himself inside a home, Belmar said. After police entered, there was a struggle over the officer's gun. Belmar said the officer dropped the magazine from his gun and shot into the floor to empty the chamber so the gun couldn't be used against him. 

REACTION TO THE SHOOTING

An estimated 200 to 300 protesters gathered at the scene after the shooting, and conflicts broke out between officers and protesters, Belmar said.

Four people were arrested for assaulting officers. A Florissant officer went to the emergency room with a leg injury he sustained as he tried to get away from some sort of firework device set off on the parking lot, Belmar said. Belmar said it was one of two explosives used at the gas station, which he said was disturbing because of the proximity to gas tanks. A third explosive at a QuikTrip store near the Mobil station started a small fire, he said. 

Protesters also threw bricks at officers, Belmar said. One officer, from either St. John or St. Ann, had facial lacerations as a result. Police used pepper spray on the crowd but did not use any tear gas, the chief said.

He said several police cars were damaged, and some protesters brought bags of rocks to the scene. 

Belmar said while it was understandable to have a crowd gather, "to come there armed with explosive devices is certainly something  that is not safe for our community, is not safe for our businesses and is certainly not safe for our officers." 

Belmar said when he arrived at the scene in the early morning hours, he talked to a number of young people who were understandably concerned and upset. He said some of them asked why the officer hadn't used a Taser or pepper spray. 

Belmar said: "Frankly that's unreasonable." 

"We had somebody who was pointing a gun at a police officer. With not a lot of time, I would imagine that most of us would feel like we were in imminent danger of losing our lives at that point," he said. "And I think the officer responded with what he thought was commensurate force at the time."

"I understand the emotions and I understand these young people are looking for something, but I think we have to understand the context of what happens down there with these kinds of situations," Belmar said. 

Belmar praised Berkeley Police Chief Frank McCall for helping to calm the protests. He said police have learned a lot from Ferguson. Belmar noted that one of the first things McCall said to his commanders was, 'Hey,let's let this emotion vent. Let this happen."

Belmar said by the time he arrived around 3 a.m., the violence had dissipated. He did note, however, that the early reaction hindered the investigation.

"When you're trying to take care of a scene and you're trying to protect that — you know, shell casings, different things like that — and we're dealing with other issues, I think that makes it a little more difficult for us to do our job and it certainly makes it more difficult for us to do our job in a timely fashion," he said. 

"We really do need to get to the point where we can at least wait for certain facts to materialize before we jump to conclusions, before we make attributions,before we become cynical," he added. "I've already seen through social media that this officer stopped him, questioned him, frisked him and then killed him in cold blood — well, that's not what you're going to see when you see the video."

Hoskins, at his news conference said, "You can't compare this to Ferguson or the Garner case in New York." He said the videotape showed Martin pointing a gun at the officer. He said the city would conduct its own complete investigation, separate from the St. Louis County Police investigation. 

"Our overall goal is to project the truth to residents," Hoskins said.

Among the department's 31 officers, the mayor said, 17 or 18 are African-American. About 75 percent of the command staff are black, in addition to the mayor, police chief and other city officials, Hoskins added. 

"At this point, our review indicates that the police did not initiate this, like Ferguson," Hoskins said. 

Antonio Martin's extended family was in shock early Wednesday, as they waited for details to unfold about the fatal shooting.

"This doesn't make any sense for them to kill my son like this," Toni Martin-Green said early Wednesday from her home near the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. "I am trying to be calm."

Martin was the oldest of four children born to her and Jerome Green.

"He's like any other kid who had dreams or hopes," said Green. "We loved being around him. He'd push a smile out of you."

Green described his son as a "follower" who took medication for being hyperactive.

"It was hard for him to focus," Green said.

"He was not a violent person, to our knowledge," he added. "Around us there weren't any pistols. It's hard to believe that."

His grandmother, Margret Chandler, was also in disbelief.

"When he was around me, he knew to do right," she said. "Why would he pull out a gun against the police? That's the thing I don't get. It just doesn't add up."

Gov. Jay Nixon issued a statement: “The events in Berkeley are a reminder that law enforcement officers have a difficult, and often dangerous, job in protecting themselves and law-abiding citizens.”

Jennifer Mann, 8:20 a.m., and Jesse Bogan at 8:45 a.m. and Christine Byers at 10 a.m.

Earlier story:

BERKELEY • A Berkeley police officer fatally shot a suspect who pointed a gun at him late Tuesday, St. Louis County police said early today.

Police did not identify the person killed but Toni Martin, who was at the scene, said he was her 18-year-old son, Antonio Martin.

Several protesters also arrived at the scene shortly after the shooting. Many stayed overnight.

St. Louis County police said the incident started about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday as the Berkeley officer "was conducting a routine business check" at the Mobil gas station at 6800 North Hanley Road.

The officer saw two people outside the station, got out of his vehicle and approached them. One of the suspects pulled out a handgun.

"Fearing for his life, the Berkeley Officer fired several shots, striking the subject, fatally wounding him," the release from the county police said. "The second subject fled the scene."

Berkeley police requested that the county department's Crimes Against Persons Unit handle the investigation of the shooting. Detectives "recovered the deceased subject's handgun at the scene," the release from county police said.

For at least two hours, the body remained on the parking lot just in front of the gas station as police investigated the shooting. Berkeley police cars were on either side. A Berkeley police car was later towed away.

The station appeared to have security cameras that are trained on the parking lot.

Toni Martin said her son was with his girlfriend at the time of the shooting. The girlfriend remained at the scene but declined to talk to a reporter.

Just after the shooting, several dozen people gathered outside the gas station, which was ringed by crime scene tape.

The crowd at the station included ministers and some of the people who have been active in the protests related to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by a Ferguson police officer in August.

At one point, as some of the protesters grew rowdy, explosive flashes were set off. It was unclear by who.

Also, a QuikTrip store near the Mobil station was damaged by vandals before police officers closed access to it.

Mike Smith, 30, was among those who came to the shooting scene. He lives in the Canfield Green apartments in Ferguson, where Brown was killed Aug. 9. He works at a warehouse and said he came to Berkeley after seeing social media reports about the shooting.

"This is ridiculous, man," Smith said of Martin's shooting. "After the first one this sh-- should have stopped. My only question is: what exactly did he do to be killed?"

Also among the crowd were several legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild.

Someone else who came to the Mobil after the shooting was the Rev. Starsky Wilson, one of the co-chairmen of the  Ferguson Commission set up by Gov. Jay Nixon to look into the social and economic issues at play in north St. Louis County.

"Black. Young person shot by a police officer," Wilson said, describing it as a familiar narrative.

Wilson pointed out that since Brown's shooting most of the protests have been nonviolent and he said he was not surprised that what he was seeing in Berkeley was nonviolent.

"When you see police escalate, you see violence," Wilson said.

Darien Gatewood, 23, a foundry worker and a student at Maryville University who lives in St. Louis County, also came to the scene shortly after the shooting.

"Somebody just lost their son before Christmas," Gatewood said. "This is a present from law enforcement."

Gatewood spoke in a calm voice as he watched the crowd at the scene, which had dwindled to about a dozen by 4:30 a.m.

He  added: "Honestly no one out here respects the police. That's the feeling we have."

Others at the scene were pressing police to reveal details about what happened. They questioned why a large contingent of officers could be at the scene yet none of those officers would discuss what had taken place.

Valerie Schremp-Hahn and Jesse Bogan of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.


Editor's note: This article has been revised to reflect that police say only that the gun was pointed at the officer. The statement does not say that the suspect fired the weapon.

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