Governor Jay Nixon signed an executive order deploying the US state militia, saying demonstrators had thrown Molotov cocktails and shot at police, as well as a civilian—a description of the night’s events that diverged widely from some eyewitness accounts.
“Tonight, a day of hope, prayers, and peaceful protests was marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk,” Nixon said in a statement on his website.
A midnight curfew was imposed for the second night in the tense St. Louis suburb that has been hit by racially charged demonstrations, violence and looting since Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed on August 9 by white police officer Darren Wilson.
At around dusk on Sunday, hundreds of protesters in Ferguson, including families with young children, fled to safety after police wearing gas masks and body armor fired tear gas and smoke canisters to scatter them hours ahead of the curfew.
“The smoke bombs were completely unprovoked,” said Anthony Ellis, 45. “It [the protest] was led by kids on bikes. Next you know, they’re saying, ‘Go home! Go home!'”
The Missouri Highway Patrol said “aggressors” were trying to infiltrate a law enforcement command post, and that armored vehicles were deployed to ensure public safety.
“We ordered them back. We ordered them back again. After several attempts, we utilized the smoke to disperse these individuals,” said Highway Patrol Corporal Justin Wheetley.
State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told a late-night news briefing: “Molotov cocktails were thrown, there were shootings, looting, vandalism and other acts of violence that clearly appear not to have been spontaneous.”
He said “coordinated acts” by a few in the crowd, following what had, up to that point, been a peaceful demonstration, were “premeditated criminal acts designed . . . to provoke a response.” He added: “I had no alternative but to elevate the level of our response.”
He noted that most of the protesters were peaceful, and blamed the trouble on “a few people bent on violence and destruction.”
Johnson said the trouble began after police responded to the shooting of a civilian at 8:25 pm on Sunday, which was followed by gunfire directed at police and Molotov cocktails being thrown. At least one other person was shot, and several were arrested. No police were injured.
Officials said Ferguson schools would be closed on Monday.
A preliminary private autopsy requested by Brown’s family, showed the teenager was shot at least six times, the New York Times reported on Sunday night.
Quoting Michael M. Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, the newspaper reported that Brown was shot twice in the head, and that the bullets that hit him did not appear to have been fired from very close range because no gunpowder was detected on his body.
Brown’s family was set to appear with Baden on Monday morning in St. Louis to address the autopsy’s findings.
Earlier on Sunday, US Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal autopsy of Brown’s body, seeking to reassure the family and community that there would be a thorough investigation.
Police said Brown had been asked by Wilson to move off the road and onto a sidewalk, and that Brown had reached into a patrol car and struggled with Wilson for his service gun before being shot.
A friend of Brown’s, Dorian Johnson, 22, and at least one other witness, said Wilson had reached out through his car window to grab at Brown and that the teenager had been trying to get away when shot. Brown had held up his hands in a sign of surrender, but Wilson got out of his patrol car and shot him several times, they said.
Police in Ferguson have come under strong criticism for Brown’s death and their handling of the aftermath.
On Saturday night police used smoke canisters and tear gas to drive away protesters who refused to leave the area when the midnight-to-05:00 am curfew began. Seven protesters were arrested after failing to disperse.
As disturbances continued in Missouri, 500 people protested peacefully outside police headquarters in Los Angeles on Sunday over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in California a week ago.
Many held up signs reading, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” in reference to witness reports that Brown had his hands up when he was shot in Ferguson.