CRIME
12/24/2014 10:23 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

St. Louis County Police Chief Calls Shooting Of Black Teen By White Cop A 'Tragedy'

The fatal shooting of a black Missouri teenager who allegedly pointed a gun at a white police officer late Tuesday night was labeled a "tragedy" for the teen's family and the cop who pulled the trigger.

"This is a tragedy for everybody. Our hearts certainly go out to the decedent's family," St. Louis County Chief of Police Jon Belmar said at a press conference early Wednesday. "This is also a tragedy for the officer's family. He will carry the weight of this for the rest of his life, certainly for the rest of his career."

Belmar made the remarks while giving a preliminary account of the shooting of the 18-year-old, which happened at a gas station in Berkeley, a St. Louis suburb near Ferguson.

An unnamed, six-year veteran of the Berkeley force fired about three shots at the teen because he allegedly pointed a gun at the officer, according to Belmar. The teen did not shoot at the officer, Belmar said.

The 34-year-old officer was summoned by reports of a theft to the Mobil station, where he encountered the teen and a friend. Belmar said the officer tried questioning the teen, but that he disobeyed the officer's commands to stay put.

The teen "produced a pistol with his arm straight out, pointing at the officer," at which point Belmar said the cop fired at the teen. The person who was with the teen fled, police claim.

"The officer responded with commensurate force," Belmar said. He noted the officer is on leave as the incident is investigated.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has identified the slain teen as Antonio Martin, but Belmar wouldn't confirm his name at the press conference.

The killing, just a few miles from where ex-officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in August, precipitated clashes between police and protesters overnight. Belmar said bricks were hurled at police and explosive devices were detonated in the Mobil gas station parking lot. An officer from the nearby suburb of St. Ann was injured in the commotion, Belmar said.

It was "understandable" that a crowd would gather there, Belmar said, but he said it was unacceptable for protesters to arm themselves.

Belmar denied claims that officers used tear gas and flash bangs to disperse the crowd last night.

Police released surveillance video from the point at which the teen arrived at the gas station up until when he allegedly points a gun at the Berkeley police officer.

Belmar said he withheld additional footage to spare the teen's family from seeing him shot.

There have been widespread calls to provide officers with body cameras after incidents such as Brown's killing. In this case, the officer had been given a body camera earlier in the night, but he didn't clip it to his uniform, Belmar said.

Belmar said he believes the police car's dash cam, which is activated when the car's police lights are on, was not on during the incident.

Some observers have called for officers to use stun guns or pepper spray instead of firearms, but Belmar said such tactics would not work in a situation such as this.

"That's unreasonable," Belmar said. "We have somebody pointing a firearm. There's not time."

UPDATE: A spokesman for the St. Louis County Police confirmed that the slain teen is Antonio Martin, 18, of St. Louis.

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