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By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

An unarmed black teenager fatally shot Saturday by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., had been struggling for the officer’s gun, law enforcement officials said Sunday as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the police department.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the youth, Michael Brown, 18, allegedly struggled for a Ferguson police officer’s weapon in a patrol car before the officer fired several shots about noon Saturday. Witnesses have said the youth had his hands in the air as he fled the patrol car.

St. Louis County Police, separate from the Ferguson police, are handling the investigation, which Belmar said would be thorough.

“We are investigating this incident as we would any other shooting,” said a statement on the St. Louis County agency’s Facebook page. “There is no bias or favoritism applied as we are an outside agency and were not involved.”

The St. Louis County agency’s statement said: “The FBI will be contacted today and notified of the incident. If they choose, they may conduct a separate use-of-force investigation on this incident directly with the Ferguson Police Department.”

The officer who fired the shots has been placed on paid administrative leave and has not been identified. He has been on the force six years.

Belmar said Brown was shot “more than just a couple of times,” but it is unclear how many shots were fired.

Brown was walking with a friend in the middle of the street when a Ferguson police officer pulled up and tried to get out of his vehicle, Belmar said. Brown allegedly pushed the officer back into the police car, Belmar said.

Belmar said Brown entered the police car and a struggle ensued over the officer’s weapon. One shot was fired inside the car, Belmar said.

The fatal shooting occurred after the officer and Brown left the vehicle, Belmar said.

Witnesses’ accounts have differed from that of police.

Dorin Johnson, a friend of the victim, told the local Fox affiliate, Fox 2, that he was walking in the street with Brown when the squad car pulled up and an officer told them to get on the sidewalk.

“It was not but a minute from our destination and we would be off the street,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the officer didn’t get out of his patrol car, but reached “his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around the neck.”

Another witness, Piaget Crenshaw, told Fox 2: “I witnessed the police chase after the guy, full force. He ran for his life. They shot him and he fell. He put his arms up to let them know that he was compliant and he was unarmed, and they shot him twice more and he fell to the ground and died.”

After Saturday’s shooting, hundreds of neighborhood residents gathered to protest at the shooting scene. The crowd grew to as large as 1,000, according to local media reports. “It got heated very quickly,” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told Fox 2.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says it will seek a federal investigation. Adolphus Pruitt, vice president of the NAACP Missouri State Conference and president of the St. Louis NAACP, said two representatives from the Justice Department had arrived in St. Louis late Sunday.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement Sunday that Brown’s relatives had invited him to come to St. Louis “to assist the family in achieving a fair investigation and justice.”

While St. Louis County police held the news conference at the Ferguson police station Sunday, hundreds of protesters gathered, holding up their hands and saying, “Don’t shoot me.”

Protesters chanted, “We want answers” and “No justice, no peace.” Some carried signs saying, “Stop police terrorism” and “Disarm the police,” according to The Associated Press.

Brown’s mother told AP that she didn’t understand why the police officer didn’t subdue her son with a club or Taser.

“I would like to see him fired,” Lesley McSpadden said of the officer. “I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty.”

A few thousand people gathered for a candlelight vigil Sunday night, AP reported, and some youths spray-painted “R.I.P. Michael” on the street.

AFP Photo/Whitney Curtis

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Reprinted with permission from Alternet

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