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Lawyer, officials at odds over whether man admitted shooting police in Ferguson

Lawyer, officials at odds over whether man admitted shooting police in Ferguson

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CLAYTON • The lawyer representing Jeffrey Williams insisted Tuesday that his client did not shoot two police officers at a protest in Ferguson last week — even though police and a minister say Williams admitted it.

The lawyer, Jerryl Christmas, also claimed that Williams, 20, was beaten during the arrest, an allegation that police deny.

In addition, Christmas said the officers hit by gunfire were shot by accident, but would not say how he knows that if Williams was not the shooter. He said Williams did not fire a gun that night.

However, Bishop Derrick Robinson, of Kingdom Destiny Fellowship, in Fairview Heights, told the Post-Dispatch on Sunday that in a jail visit, Williams said he was robbed in the protest zone on the night of March 11 and returned to fire his gun into the air in frustration.

“He told me that he shouldn’t have done it,” Robinson said. “He was embarrassed; he showed deep remorse; he wishes he could retract things.”

Christmas said Williams expressed sympathy but not responsibility: “He was remorseful about the officers being shot, he just said he couldn’t believe it and he felt bad.”

The attorney said Williams had bruises on his back, neck and face as well as a knot on the back of his head, allegedly from the butt of an officer’s gun.

Robinson has said that Williams told him he had been beaten by police.

St. Louis County police called allegations of excessive force “completely false.” A department statement said a nurse had examined Williams at the Justice Center and found him “fit for confinement.”

County police Sgt. Brian Schellman said that Williams’ arrest was not videotaped, but that his statement to police — admitting he fired the shots — was. Officer Shawn McGuire said he was unsure whether Williams resisted arrest.

The Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ, in north St. Louis County, and a member of the Ferguson Commission, said not all clergy agreed with Robinson. “I want to be very clear that he was not speaking for clergy, but he was speaking for himself,” she said.

“I’m not accusing the officers,” Blackmon said. “I’m waiting like everyone else.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Christmas obtained a court order allowing a private investigator to photograph marks on Williams’ body. Prosecutors did not object. Christmas said some of the injuries were visible in a mugshot police distributed Sunday. He said red marks could be seen on his client’s throat and cheek.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Sunday while announcing Williams’ arrest that the defendant had told officials he fired the shots that struck police. McCulloch said it was possible that Williams fired at someone other than the officers, based on his claim of being involved in some type of dispute earlier.

McCulloch said a .40-caliber handgun recovered from Williams was matched to shell casings found at the scene.

Christmas said he was unaware of any dispute involving his client that night.

“This was not an ambush shooting,” Christmas said. “I believe the police were shot accidentally, but I do not believe, I’m not aware of my client shooting at all that night.”

Christmas said Williams was not a regular attendee during months of protests. He said his client had not been in the police station area since August, but was attracted to it March 11 as a “hangout.”

Regular protests followed the shooting Aug. 9 by white Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson of Michael Brown, 18, who was black and unarmed. A St. Louis County grand jury declined in November to indict Wilson, and a Justice Department report issued March 4 separately concluded that Wilson had been justified to shoot. Wilson resigned from the department in November.

The two police officers were shot early Thursday morning as protesters began to disperse. It was hours after Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, resigned — the sixth city employee to quit or be fired after a separate Justice Department report that alleged racial bias in the city’s police and court systems.

A county officer, 41, was wounded in the right shoulder and a Webster Groves officer, 32, in the cheek. Both were released from the hospital hours later.

Williams appeared in court Monday on charges of first-degree assault, armed criminal action and firing a gun from a vehicle. His case was continued until March 31. He is jailed in lieu of $300,000 bail.

He declined an interview request.

McCulloch has characterized Williams as a “demonstrator,” who had been outside the Ferguson police department earlier in the evening and “out there before during demonstrations.”

But Christmas said: “He doesn’t consider himself a regular part of the protest community.” He added, “Nobody recognizes him as a regular protester, so it’s false to say this is someone that is protest-related.”

Christmas also has represented the family of VonDerrit Myers Jr., 18. Police said Myers fired at least three shots at a St. Louis police officer in October before being killed by the officer’s return fire. Christmas has denied that Myers fired or even had a gun.

Steve Giegerich and Koran Addo of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect location for Christ the King United Church of Christ. This version has been corrected.

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