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Chief Dotson defends tactics during unrest; autopsy shows Ball-Bey died of wound to his back

St. Louis police chief Dotson speaks beside clergy and Mayor Francis Slay Thursday in Fountain Park, calling for calm after a night of unrest.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Friday with preliminary autopsy report:

St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson defended Thursday the tactics city police used the previous night during unrest that broke out in north St. Louis after the fatal police shooting of Mansur Ball-Bey. Later that night St. Louis police officers held back as a group marched to the intersection of Euclid and Maryland avenues and blocked traffic there for almost an hour.

On Friday morning, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department released a statement saying that the city's medical examiner's preliminary autopsy "indicates Ball-Bey sustained a single gunshot wound to his back."

Last August Dotson criticized St. Louis County Police for using militarized tactics in Ferguson, butcity police used tear gas and an armored vehicle Wednesday nightto disperse protesters blocking the intersection of Page Avenue and Walton Boulevard after bricks and bottles were thrown at police.

“I was getting calls from aldermen saying my residents are concerned. They’re hearing that individuals have gasoline, have charcoal lighter, talking about setting buildings on fire—which they did. We had to get control of the situation,” Dotson said. “Last night no police officers were injured, no protesters were injured. So we get caught up in the optics, but the idea is to keep people safe.”

At least one building and one car were set on fire Wednesday night, but not until after police dispersed the crowd with tear gas.

Dotson also disputed claims from protesters that his officers gave insufficient warning before using the tear gas.

As part of a lawsuit settlement,St. Louis city police agreed in March to give warning that chemical agents were about to be used and directions of where to go to avoid being gassed.

“What you heard (Wednesday) was ‘this is an unlawful assembly’ and then you heard ‘please disperse’ and then you saw the MRAP (armored vehicle) where the man was on top with the tear-gas-canister gun, but there were never any clear moments where I heard … that tear gas would be used,” said protester Kayla Reed of the Organization for Black Struggle during a conference call with journalists Thursday morning.

Civil Rights attorney Denise Lieberman of the Advancement Project backed up Reed’s statement.

“Not only are police required to call an unlawful assembly, make a clear and unambiguous announcement that chemical agents will be used if people fail to disperse, but they also have to give people a reasonable time to disperse, they also have to provide a clear means of egress for people to disperse and tell people where that is," Lieberman said. "They are also prohibited from using tear gas and other chemical agents in a way that is targeted and directed at specific individuals.  And eye witness accounts that we’re hearing seem to suggest that many of those provisions were not complied with.”

But Dotson said later that police “absolutely” warned protesters about the tear gas and told them where to go to avoid getting hit with the gas.

“Last night the directions were south on Walton, north on Walton, west on Page and if you remain in the area you’re subject to arrest and or chemical munitions including tear gas,” said Dotson after a news conference called by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition.

Dotson told St. Louis Public Radio Wednesday night that a video released by his department would show that his officers gave adequate warning before using tear gas. But those warnings were not visible on the video uploaded to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police YouTube account. Requests for clarification were not immediately returned.

During the news conference Thursday afternoon both Slay and Dotson called for peace and calm Thursday night.

The police chief also called on demonstrators to avoid an “us-against-them” mentality.

"The look that I saw on the two officers yesterday after they were involved (in the shooting of Mansur Ball-Bey) … is they were concerned, not for themselves, but for what was going to happen in this community,” Dotson said. “They could see this coming."

Meanwhile, St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition president Charles Brown said more dialogue needs to take place between police and young people involved in protests.

"This isn't a one-sided thing, this is both sides, as far as I'm concerned it's both sides,” said Brown. “Until people take responsibility for what's going on this is not going to stop."

Other clergy at the conference said residents of Fountain Park want no more violence.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.