FERGUSON, Mo. — The Missouri State Highway Patrol and St. Louis County Police Department will take over Ferguson protest security Thursday night after two police officers were shot outside the police department there early Thursday morning.
Ferguson police will continue to handle routine policing services in the city, St. Louis County police said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
The two officers shot early Thursday are expected to survive, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said. They were treated at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and released Thursday, though one still had a bullet lodged behind his ear.
Belmar called the shooting as protests outside the department dwindled an “ambush” on police. At least three shots were fired at police just after midnight as police faced protesters who had gathered outside the police station, police said.
On Thursday morning, officers swarmed a home in Ferguson in their search for those responsible for the shooting of the two officers.
Tactical officers surrounded a brick bungalow about four blocks west of the police department. Officers went in with dogs about 9:30 a.m. A neighbor said he saw police bring two men out of the home. The woman who neighbors say rents the home was also brought out in handcuffs.
Police said they were questioning the three but they were not under arrest. They declined to provide further details.
Belmar discussed the shootings Thursday morning at the St. Louis County police commissioners board room. He said one officer injured in the shooting was with his department. The other is a Webster Groves police officer. Both were treated at Barnes-Jewish Hospital but have been released.
The Webster Groves officer was shot just below his right eye and the bullet was lodged just below the officer’s right ear, Belmar said. That officer is 32 and has been on the force for five years.
The bullet that hit the county officer in the right shoulder exited from the right side of his back, Belmar said. That officer is 41 and has been in law enforcement for 14 years.
Belmar said he believes the shots came from a handgun, not a rifle, based on the injuries and the sound of the shots.
The chief said no suspects have been identified in the shootings but that detectives recovered shell casings near the scene. He said it was not clear if those shell casings were from the shooting. He said some witnesses have been “forthright” in helping police with the investigation.
“We’re lucky by God’s grace that we didn’t lose those two officers last night,” Belmar said. “We could have buried two police officers next week because of this.”
The officers had been standing in a line of about 25 officers when the shots were fired. The gunfire came from the area of a parking lot about 125 yards away and were “parallel to the ground,” Belmar said, leading him to believe the officers were targeted.
“When you listen to the audio (in video from the scene), you can actually hear those shots singing,” Belmar said.
The chief said 60 to 70 protesters had come to the Ferguson Police Department earlier in the night, some of them blocking roads and sidewalks. The protests prompted police departments to send officers, some in riot gear. At least three arrests were made during the protests before the shots were fired. That came later as the protest began to dwindle.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement Thursday offering the Justice Department’s “full range of investigative resources.” He noted that “Such senseless acts of violence threaten the very reforms that nonviolent protesters in Ferguson and around the country have been working towards for the past several months.”
Speaking later Thursday, Holder described the shooting as the actions of a “damn punk” who was “trying to sow discord.”
CrimeStoppers is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the shooting. They asked anyone with information to call (866) 371-8477. Tipsters can remain anonymous, and tips can also be submitted online at www.stlrcs.org or texted along with “STL” to 274637.
U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., added a $3,000 reward for information in the shooting.
Other politicians responded with messages about the shootings Thursday.
“Violence against police is unacceptable,” President Barack Obama tweeted from the White House account. “Our prayers are with the officers in MO. Path to justice is one all of us must travel together.”