By Margaret Gillerman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
ST. LOUIS — Another police-involved fatal shooting of a teenager, this time in south St. Louis not far from the Missouri Botanical Garden, led to hours of protests overnight Wednesday and into Thursday morning as an angry crowd gathered quickly when news spread across social media.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said the officer was off-duty, working a secondary job for a private security company, when he fatally shot an 18-year-old male Wednesday night.
Police say the teen had opened fire on the officer. The officer was unhurt.
Relatives of the teen who came to the scene said the victim had been unarmed. They identified him as Vonderrit Myers Jr., 18.
Teyonna Myers, 23, of Florissant, Mo., said Myers was her cousin.
“He was unarmed,” Teyonna Myers said. “He had a sandwich in his hand, and they thought it was a gun. It’s like Michael Brown all over again.”
Dotson, who came to the scene and gave an update to reporters after midnight, said the officer had been in a car when he saw three males in the 4100 block of Shaw Boulevard at about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. One of the males started to run away but stopped. The officer did a U-turn and then all three ran. The officer drove through streets following them, and then he got out and chased them on foot.
Assistant Police Chief Alfred Adkins said the teen the officer was chasing jumped from some bushes and struggled with the officer.
Dotson said a physical confrontation escalated into gunfire, Dotson said.
The teenager had a gun and fired at least three shots at the officer, who returned fire, the chief said. The teenager attempted to fire more but his gun jammed, Dotson said.
The officer fired 17 times, he said. It is unclear how many times the teenager was struck.
Police said they recovered a 9mm Ruger.
Dotson did not identify the 18-year-old but said he “was no stranger to law enforcement.”
The chief said he is unaware of any video that captured the shooting.
The officer, 32, is a six-year veteran of the police department, Adkins said. Police did not identify the officer.
Word of the officer-involved shooting quickly spread across social media, and crowds of angry people began showing up and flooded the streets.
The crowd numbered about 300 at its peak. Random gunshots fired by someone near Shaw caused many to scatter. At least two rounds of gunshots were heard near the scene.
Several police cars were damaged. A crowd surrounded a police SUV and someone kicked and broke a taillight. Someone in the angry crowd broke out a rear window of a police SUV as it drove away.
Police closed streets in the area before midnight. A tactical team showed up to order people out of the street. Some protesters were sitting in the road. Others marched in the street and shouted, “Black lives matter.”
The crowd included several who said they were Myers’ relatives. Some shouted at police, and some were in tears.
By about 4 a.m., the street was reopened to traffic in both directions and most of the protesters had left. About 40 people stood on the corner at Shaw as thunder rumbled in the distance.
Jackie Williams, 47, said Myers was his nephew and lived with him in the 4200 block of Castleman Avenue, near the shooting scene. He said he had talked to several people who had been with his nephew or saw the shooting.
“My nephew was coming out of a store from purchasing a sandwich. Security was supposedly searching for someone else. They Tased him,” Williams said. “I don’t know how this happened, but they went off and shot him 16 times. That’s outright murder.”
A police spokeswoman said the officer did not have a Taser.
Williams said Myers worked at a warehouse and attended high school.
Lavell Boyd, 47, lives in neighborhood and said he happened upon the scene as he was going to a store on Shaw to pick up a sandwich. Boyd said he heard 14 or 15 shots as he was in his car.
“When I pulled up I saw the cop standing over him (Myers) then he pointed the gun at everyone else telling everyone to get back while he was searching for another clip,” Boyd said.
Boyd said he heard others nearby telling the officer “you killed my friend.”
Several neighbors also gathered at the scene. Some said they were surprised by the shooting.
“This is not normal,” said Dorenda Townsend, 42, who lives in the Shaw neighborhood. “I’ve lived here over 20 years.”
Some also expressed concern that the shooting involved police.
“I pray this is not another Mike Brown situation,” said Sharon Norman, 50, referring to a shooting in August in Ferguson, Mo., in which a police officer fatally shot a teenager, which has prompted many protests.
Dotson said there had been no arrests of those involved in the protests that followed.
AFP Photo/Jim Watson