Antonio Martin's Death Is Investigated in Missouri – New York Times

Cautions Against Ferguson Comparisons After Officer Kills Black Teenager

The police stood guard Tuesday night at a gas station in Berkeley, Mo., where an 18-year-old black man was fatally shot by an officer.
By MITCH SMITH and MONICA DAVEY
December 24, 2014

A few miles from the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown died in August, another black teenager was fatally shot by a police officer on Tuesday night, setting off a flurry of tense confrontations between protesters and the police before dawn on Wednesday.

The authorities in the region moved quickly to distinguish the shooting from Mr. Brown’s case and others, which have set off protests over police conduct and race around the nation. Officials from the St. Louis County Police Department, which is investigating the shooting, said the teenager, Antonio Martin, pointed a gun at the police officer, who is white, before being shot outside a gas station late Tuesday night in Berkeley, Mo. The officials said a handgun was found at the scene, and they released surveillance video of portions of the encounter.

Theodore Hoskins, the mayor of Berkeley, a mostly black city of about 9,000, said that the city would also conduct its own investigation, but that from his initial review of the video recording, it appeared that the officer was threatened and did not open fire until a gun was pointed at him.

“This is not a policeman in the city of Berkeley half-cocked, going out,” said Mr. Hoskins, who is black. “You couldn’t even compare this with Ferguson or the Garner case in New York,” he added, referring to Mr. Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot by an officer in nearby Ferguson, and Eric Garner, who died after a confrontation with the police on Staten Island.

Map | Missouri map

Some Missouri demonstrators, though, noted that the images from surveillance video were grainy and difficult, in the view of some, to make out because they were distant. They questioned why the officer had approached Mr. Martin and a companion in the first place, and said they want to hear from witnesses before drawing any conclusions.

“All the evidence is not out, and we’ve got a community that’s grieving,” said Taurean Russell, the co-founder of Hands Up United, a group that formed after Mr. Brown’s death.

Family members of Mr. Martin, 18, told the local news media that they were reeling, and national leaders said they mourned the death and called for a nonviolent response.

“As we await the results of the investigation into the shooting death of Antonio Martin, we ask that the community exercise peaceful protest and refrain from any violent retaliation,” said Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P.

In the early morning hours on Wednesday, after the shooting and before the surveillance recordings from three angles were made public, a crowd gathered at the gas station in Berkeley. At points, explosives, likely fireworks, were set off, the police said, and bricks or rocks were thrown at the police. Four people were arrested on charges of assaulting an officer, and at least two police officers were injured, the police said.

By sunrise, the crowd was gone, and county law enforcement authorities — who had worked with state highway patrol troopers and members of the Missouri National Guard during the protests that followed the death of Mr. Brown — said they had no plans for additional patrols in Berkeley on Wednesday night, nor were they summoning help from other agencies.

Law enforcement authorities said the episode began after the Berkeley police officer, whom the authorities declined to identify, received a report of a theft and was conducting a “routine business check” at a Mobil gas station not far from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport around 11:15 p.m. on Tuesday.

The officer, who is 34 and has been on the Berkeley force for about six years, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting. One fellow member of the Berkeley force, Dennis Shireff, who is black and has been an outspoken critic of police brutality, described the officer as a “diplomatic guy” who “hasn’t displayed any signs of abuse or anything like that.”

One angle of the surveillance video from the gas station showed the marked police car pulling into the station’s parking lot. The officer appeared to get out of the car, turn on his flashlight and speak for several seconds with two people.

The video was taken from a distance, but the episode did not appear to turn confrontational until one of the men turned away, reached down and then turned back to face the officer, appearing to point his arm straight out. The police said the man was holding a 9-millimeter handgun. At that point, the video stops; the shooting itself is not shown. The second man in the images fled, the police said, and was being sought on Wednesday.

In a news conference, Chief Jon Belmar of the county police extended his sympathy to the dead man’s family and said shootings like this “are nothing but tragedies.” He said Mr. Martin had been arrested in the past, though the county police did not provide specifics.

Chief Belmar, who was criticized for how his department responded to unrest in Ferguson after Mr. Brown’s death, said the surveillance video appeared to show that the officer was in immediate danger. Using a Taser or pepper spray was not a realistic option at that moment, he said.

“You have somebody that’s pointing a gun at a police officer,” he said. “There’s not a lot of time. I can imagine that most of us would feel that we’re in imminent danger of losing our lives.”

Investigators believe that the officer fired three times, striking Mr. Martin once. It did not appear that Mr. Martin fired his gun, they said. Chief Belmar said the officer had been given a body camera during his shift but was not wearing it at the time of the shooting. The police cruiser was equipped with a dash camera, the chief said, but it was not clear whether it filmed the encounter. Investigators have seized the car and are checking for footage, Chief Belmar said.

Gov. Jay Nixon, who has faced intense scrutiny for his handling of unrest after Mr. Brown’s death, issued a one-sentence statement on the more recent shooting: “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.”

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, a Democrat who represents part of St. Louis and has protested in Ferguson, said that she was not sure exactly what to make of Tuesday’s shooting, but that it spoke to broader issues of gun violence and a lack of trust between some African-Americans and law enforcement.

“We have a systemic problem,” she said. “The young man apparently had a gun. If he had a gun, what did he have a gun for and why did he point it at the police officer?”

Alain Delaquérière and John Eligon contributed reporting.

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