Two policemen were shot early Thursday in Ferguson, Missouri, in what one official called an ambush, hours after the city's police chief resigned in the wake of a Justice Department report that accused the department of racially biased policing.
The incident occurred about midnight as protesters who had gathered outside the Ferguson police station were just beginning to disperse. Dozens were sent scrambling following the sound of gunfire.
One of the officers, a member of the St. Louis County police department, was shot in the shoulder, while the other, from the nearby town of Webster Groves, was shot in the face, with the bullet lodging behind his ear.
The two officers were released from the hospital by Thursday afternoon, St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman told The Associated Press. Both are expected to recover.
According to reports by Reuters, a law enforcement team in tactical gear swarmed a home in the St. Louis suburb on Thursday afternoon. Television images showed officers on the roof breaking into the attic with heavy tools.
Shawn McGuire, a St. Louis County police spokesman, said an undisclosed number of people were taken from the house but there have been no arrests so far. He would not confirm media reports that two men and a woman were led away.
'This is really an ambush'
“This is really an ambush, is what it is,” said Chief Jon Belmar of the St. Louis County Police Department. "You can't see it coming. ... And you are basically defenseless from the fact that it is happening to you."
Belmar said the shooter used a handgun and shell casings had been recovered.
Shawn McGuire, a St. Louis County police spokesman, said people had been brought in for questioning as part of the investigation, but there had been no arrests by midday Thursday.
The shooting occurred seven months after Darren Wilson, a white police officer fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown during a street confrontation last August.
'Cannot sustain this forever'
Belmar said the officers were conscious but described their wounds as "very serious."
“These police officers were standing there and they were shot, just because they were police officers,” Belmar said.
“I have said all along that we cannot sustain this forever without problems,” he said, referring to festering tensions in the city since Brown's death last summer. He also said that in future similar situations, police may fire back.
Thursday's shootings were “inexcusable and repugnant,” U.S Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “Such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that nonviolent protesters in Ferguson and around the country have been working towards.”
Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing Brown's parents, said on Thursday the family condemned the shooting and insisted that a small number of people were responsible for any violence.
“Violence is never the solution,” Crump told CNN. “There may be a few people who are misguided or confused but in large part the majority of the protesters and the majority of Americans want justice.”
Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill urged “healing and reform,” calling the shooting a “criminal act that jeopardized the lives of police officers and protesters both.”
Belmar said the shooter was "somehow embedded" among the demonstrators. But witnesses in Ferguson reported the shots appeared to come from a hill across the street from the station. A large number of police officers were deployed outside the station moments after the shots rang out.
Scuffles had broken out earlier among the 60 to 70 demonstrators, who represented two factions, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday.
"The first were there to make a point that they weren't satisfied" with this week's resignations of Police Chief Thomas Jackson and City Manager John Shaw, the paper said. "They were chanting in unison.
"The other one was volatile, angry, hurling profanities at the police, media and other protesters," the Post-Dispatch said, noting it had a reporter and photographer on the scene.
Jackson submitted his resignation Wednesday. He had become the focus of bitter complaints of racial discrimination within his department in the aftermath of Brown's deadly shooting. Protesters had called for his removal since then.
The report by the Justice Department criticized the Ferguson police department of bias against the city's black majority, including arbitrary traffic stops, arrests and tickets. The report said city officials operated its courts as a money-making venture.
Jackson is the sixth Ferguson official to step down in the wake of the Justice Department report. Besides the city manager, a municipal court judge resigned this week, while a city court clerk and two police officers were either dismissed or resigned after they were identified in the report of sending racist emails.
Mayor James Knowles III also said Wednesday the city had reached a mutual separation agreement with Jackson that will pay Jackson one year of his nearly $96,000 annual salary and health coverage. Jackson's resignation becomes effective March 19, according to The Associated Press.
Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, is still reeling from the shooting, which set off days of violence in the city.
Wilson was not charged by the Justice Department with violating Brown's civil rights, and a state grand jury failed to bring criminal charges against him.
Some material for this report came from Reuters and AP.