ST. LOUIS — A state senator and other black leaders on Thursday called for the Justice Department to investigate the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white St. Louis police officer, an incident that some protesters are likening to the death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said the 18-year-old, identified by his mother and police as Vonderrit D. Myers, shot at the off-duty officer Wednesday night and the officer returned fire. The shooting led to an angry protest.
Syreeta Myers told The Associated Press by phone Thursday that her son wasn't armed, as police contend. She said he was holding a sandwich when he was killed, not a gun.
"Police lie. They lied about Michael Brown, too," she said.
More than 20 black leaders gathered for a news conference outside police headquarters and questioned why the officer approached Vonderrit Myers in the first place.
"This here was racial profiling turned deadly," state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed said.
The St. Louis Democrat said that in addition to requesting a Justice Department investigation, she will ask Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to appoint a special panel to look into concerns about profiling and police use of deadly force. The Justice Department is already investigating the shooting of Brown on Aug. 9 in Ferguson. A state grand jury is still deciding if Darren Wilson, the white officer who shot the unarmed, black 18-year-old, will face charges.
Dotson said the St. Louis officer, who was wearing his uniform despite being off-duty, was working a security job and patrolling a neighborhood near the Missouri Botanical Gardens around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when he saw three males walking. When the officer did a U-turn in his vehicle, all three ran, Dotson said.
The officer chased them, first in his car and then on foot. During the chase, he got into a physical altercation with Myers. The officer thought he saw a gun on Myers at one point, but did not fire because he wanted to be sure, Dotson said.
The chief said Myers ran up a hill, turned and fired at the officer, who shot back and killed him.
Ballistic evidence shows Myers fired three shots at the officer before the gun jammed, Dotson said, adding that the 9mm gun was recovered. The officer, who wasn't hurt, fired off 17 rounds but it's not clear how many bullets struck Myers.
"An investigation will decide if the officer's behavior was appropriate," Dotson said.
Police spokeswoman Schron Jackson confirmed the officer is white. The department hasn't released his name, but said he is 32 years old and has been on the St. Louis force for six years.
The Ferguson case was on the minds of protesters who gathered after the latest shooting, with some shouting "Hands up, don't shoot" — a common refrain during the weeks of sometimes violent protests in the wake of Brown's death. Dotson said some in the St. Louis crowd shouted obscenities at officers and damaged police cars, but no protesters were arrested.
Online court documents show Vonderrit Myers was charged in June in St. Louis with the unlawful use of a weapon, a felony, and misdemeanor resisting arrest. A hearing that had been scheduled for Monday was continued until Nov. 17. It wasn't clear if he had a juvenile record. Those records are not open to the public.
Dotson said he wasn't aware of any video of Myers' shooting.
"We want to be open and transparent and as thorough as we possibly can," he said.
Many black leaders say it's too late for that.
"There's a culture of cover-up in the police department and the first thing is to protect your own," said A. Akbar Muhammad, a Nation of Islam member from St. Louis. "You have to ask the question: Is there a culture of racism in the police department?"
It was the third fatal police-involved shooting in the St. Louis area since Brown's death. On Aug. 19, Kajieme Powell, 25, was shot by St. Louis city officers after police say he moved toward them with a knife while telling them, "Shoot me now. Kill me now." Each officer fired six shots, and Powell died at the scene.
On Sept. 17, officers shot and killed a 42-year-old man in the St. Louis County town of Jennings after the suspect allegedly slammed his vehicle into two police vehicles before pointing a rifle at officers.