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St. Louis police kill man, fire tear gas after protest builds

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said police fired tear gas at protesters who blocked and refused to leave the intersection of Page and Walton.
Stephanie Lecci | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19 with information on protests, police response - St. Louis police fired tear gas and made nine arrests Wednesday night after a couple hundred protesters gathered at Page Boulevard and Walton Avenue. Earlier near the intersection, police fatally shot Mansur Ball-Bey, an 18-year-old black man who, they say, pointed a gun at officers while fleeing from a house search.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday night, police chief Sam Dotson gave this account: 

Protesters blocked the intersection and initially ignored requests from officers in regular uniform to clear the street. Peace was restored after people moved to the sidewalk. But once police left the area, the protesters returned to the street and began to march to the Central West End along Kingshighway. 

When the demonstrators returned to Page and Walton, they threw bottles and bricks at officers, who then used their shields. Dotson said police have video of these incidents.

He also said the crowd ignored "repeated requests to disperse." Police used "inert smoke," and when that didn't work, they used tear gas. 

Several protesters on Twitter claimed that the police's use of riot gear and shields escalated tensions at a peaceful protest. Many also said they were given no warning that tear gas was about to be fired. 

Dotson said that wasn't true.

"The video will show you that, over the loudspeaker, it was repeatedly given: 'This is the first warning,' 'This is the second warning,' 'This is the third and fourth warning.' So the people that didn’t hear the warnings weren’t listening for the warnings or chose to ignore them," he said.

Police were called back to the area after a car was set on fire and to respond to businesses being burglarized. Dotson also said he heard gunshots at the scene.

"So an area that’s been plagued by violence, been plagued by gun violence, police officers were there today doing the job we all asked them to do to keep our community safe. A group of protesters came together and started to do acts of violence directed not only toward law enforcement, but also to the neighborhood -- setting a car on fire, breaking into businesses. And officers continue to respond to calls in that neighborhood right now," Dotson said.

Police said nine people were arrested and charged with impeding traffic; one of those people was also charged with resisting arrest.

Dotson denied that the large police presence antagonized the crowd. He said the group was "impeding traffic" and "impacting people's lives," and compared Wednesday's arrests to those made in last week's Interstate 70 protest.

"I think there is a line that gets crossed from peacefully protesting, which we will support anybody that comes together with a message, it’s our job to support them," he said. "I think some want change faster. This is not the way to do it, through acts of violence, setting cars on fire. Throwing bricks and bottles is not the way to get change to happen."

Dotson said police need to support peaceful protesters but treat criminals as criminals.

"When they don't do it peacefully, then law enforcement and I think everybody that I talk to expects law enforcement to take action when laws are broken," he said.

The expressions on Twitter among protesters mixed anger and sadness. The account of Hands up United had the following message with a photo of a line of officers and billowing gas:

Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach for America-St. Louis  and member of the Ferguson Commission, tweeted as she left the area: "I don't have anything but sadness today. Deep sadness." Earlier she noted:

Our original story: 

On the anniversary of the shooting death of Kajieme Powell, another young African-American man has been shot to death by police in St. Louis.

Police identified the man as 18-year-old Mansur Ball-Bey, of the 1200 block of Redman Boulevard.

According to the statement from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, members of the Special Operations and Tactical Unit had a search warrant for a building in the 1200 block of Walton Avenue. Around 11:30 a.m., as they were about to enter the building, “two young black males armed with guns ran out the back door,” the statement said.

Police Chief Sam Dotson later said: "Officers in the rear alley ordered them to stop and to drop the gun. As they ran, one of the individuals turned and pointed the gun at the officers. There were two officers in the alley. Both officers fired."

Police said a 33-year-old white officer with seven years on the force and a 29-year-old white officer with nearly seven years experience fired their weapons after Ball-Bey pointed his gun at them. 

A black male in his mid- to late teens escaped and remains at large. Police said they recovered a 9-mm gun with "an extended magazine" from Ball-Bey that had been reported as stolen in Rolla. They also recovered three other guns at the scene, two of which were also stolen.

People gather Wednesday evening in front of the two-family flat in the 1200 block of Walton Avenue, where the shooting occurred. Members of the Special Operations and Tactical Unit had a search warrant for the building.
Credit Linda Lockhart | St. Louis Public Radio
People gather Wednesday evening in front of the two-family flat in the 1200 block of Walton Avenue, where the shooting occurred. Members of the Special Operations and Tactical Unit had a search warrant for the building.

As per department policy, both officers have been placed on administrative leave. Police said the Force Investigative Unit is handling the ongoing investigation. Once complete, its work will be handed over to the circuit attorney's office for review.

As the investigation was taking place, people gathered, including some who had been at demonstrations to mark the anniversary of Powell’s death. The police brought in more officers and declared that there was “an unlawful assembly,” telling people to disperse. As of 4:30 p.m., police continued to keep people away from the scene of the shooting, but groups of individuals gathered near the intersection of Walton and Page Boulevard.

Police said three protesters were arrested at Page and Walton for "impeding the flow of traffic."

The Fountain Park neighborhood where the shooting occurred has not had one of the higher murder rates, but recent violence has created more police awareness.

Dotson said police were in the neighborhood because at "the market right across the street, people were shot at earlier this week. Just a little south of here earlier this week, a woman was killed. The Tuskegee airman had his car stolen. This is where officers need to be. And it shows the availability of gun, stolen guns in this case, in the hands of criminals, and their willingness to point them at police."

As for the specific search warrant, Dotson said, "This house has been identified about a year and a half to two years ago and another search warrant was done and several guns were taken out of this house. So detectives were looking for guns, looking for violent felons, looking for people that have been committing the crimes in the neighborhood. That’s why their attention was drawn to this. So this house, this residence has seen police officers do search warrants in the past as well."

During a late night press conference with reporters, Dotson also said the city had seen "close to a 70 percent increase in stolen guns" over the last year. He said the majority of those stolen weapons are being taken by criminals breaking into the cars of legal owners who leave their weapons in their vehicles when attending baseball games, conventions or other activities in downtown. 

"I think the message is lawful people that want to have a gun, be smart about it," he said. 

He also lamented Missouri's "lax gun laws."

"There’s not even a law in our state that requires you to report your gun stolen, so I only know there’s a 70 percent increase because people have reported their guns stolen. I don’t know many guns have been stolen that are not reported," he said.

Donna Korando started work in journalism at SIU’s Daily Egyptian in 1968. In between Carbondale and St. Louis Public Radio, she taught high school in Manitowoc, Wis., and worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the copy editor and letters editor for the editorial page from 1973-77. As an editorial writer from 1977-87, she covered Illinois and city politics, education, agriculture, family issues and sub-Saharan Africa. When she was editor of the Commentary Page from 1987-2003, the page won several awards from the Association of Opinion Page Editors. From 2003-07, she headed the features copy desk.