CRIME

Suspect in Ferguson Shooting Was Beaten By Police, Couldn't Take Photos Of Injuries: Lawyer

03/16/2015 08:50 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2015
St. Louis County Police Department

(Adds details from suspect's lawyer, reaction from police)

By Richard Valdmanis

FERGUSON, Mo., March 16 (Reuters) - A lawyer for the man accused of wounding two policemen during a protest rally outside the Ferguson, Missouri, police headquarters last week said on Monday his client was beaten when he was taken into custody, an allegation police called "completely false."

Jeffrey L. Williams, 20, had bruising across his back, on both shoulders and his neck, and a welt on his head and a mark on his face, attorney Jerryl Christmas said, adding that he met with him for two hours on Monday but could not take pictures.

"He was beat up by the police," Christmas said in a telephone interview. "He was beaten when he was taken into custody."

Williams had appeared briefly in court Monday morning without counsel and did not enter a plea. He is charged with two counts of first-degree assault, a class A felony that calls for 10-30 years, or up to life in prison.

The shooting was the latest violent incident in months of demonstrations in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, after a white police officer fatally shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown during a confrontation in August.

In announcing Williams's arrest on Sunday, St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch told reporters Williams had admitted firing the shots that wounded the officers early Thursday and told authorities he was not shooting at police.

"With regard to the allegations that Jeffrey Williams was 'beaten' by police, the St. Louis County Police Department calls these allegations completely false," spokesman Brian Schellman said in a statement.

Schellman said Williams was taken immediately to St. Louis County Police headquarters after his arrest, interviewed by detectives on video and audio, booked and evaluated by a nurse as every inmate is, to determine if he is fit to be confined.

Christmas said Williams was taken into custody on a probation warrant and did not know he was being arrested until he was taken for questioning.

No one responded Monday at the Williams address listed in court records, a one-story blue house that had trash strewn on the lawn. Neighbors declined to comment.

Police had called the shooting an "ambush" of the officers, who were standing side by side, by a gunman embedded with protesters, but McCulloch said on Sunday that Williams may have been shooting at someone else.

Several long-time activists have said they did not recognize or know Williams as a protester.

"Clearly this was not a police ambush and police were never the target," Christmas said, adding: "It could have easily been the protesters who got shot instead of the police."

The shooting of the officers followed a flurry of resignations and protests in the week after the U.S. Justice Department released a damning report accusing Ferguson of racially biased policing.

The Justice Department, which launched an investigation after Brown's shooting, found pervasive racial bias in Ferguson's policing and municipal court practices. Its police force is mostly white while two-thirds of residents are black.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, its city manager and its municipal court judge have resigned.

Williams, who had been on probation for possession of stolen property, is accused of firing shots from a car just as a rally after Jackson's resignation was breaking up.

Demonstrations erupted into arson and looting after Brown's shooting in August and again in November when a grand jury declined to bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson.

Police drew criticism for mass arrests and use of gas canisters, rubber bullets and armored vehicles in the days after Brown's shooting, a response officials said was needed to quell the unrest.

A U.S. District judge on Monday allowed a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by people arrested in August to continue. The lawsuit names Ferguson, St. Louis County, the chiefs of both departments and other officers as defendants. (Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee and Kate Munsch in Ferguson; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by James Dalgleish, Andrew Hay, Cynthia Osterman and Ken Wills)

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