August 18, 2014 08:15
Tensions fueled by the police shooting of an unarmed black teen more than a week ago remain high in Ferguson, Missouri, where rallies for justice continued Sunday and local authorities extended a curfew to curb unrest triggered by the incident.
Meanwhile, the federal government announced on Sunday that it will conduct a separate autopsy in the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer on August 9.
The incident set off daily protests in the town of Ferguson as well as rallies in other parts the country.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, results from the federal and state autopsies will be considered during the investigation of the August 9 shooting.
"Due to the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case and at the request of the Brown family, Attorney General Holder has instructed Justice Department officials to arrange for an additional autopsy to be performed by a federal medical examiner," agency spokesman Brian Fallon said in a written statement on Sunday.
Seven people were arrested early Sunday as police used smoke and tear gas to enforce a curfew in the central U.S. town of Ferguson, Missouri.
Missouri state police say they responded strongly Sunday out of fear for officers' safety. Police say one person was critically injured in a shooting nearby that appeared unrelated to the protests.
On Sunday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said the five-hour curfew in Ferguson, imposed on Saturday after several days of protests following the shooting death of Brown a week ago, had helped maintain peace.
Asked on CNN's program State of the Union on Sunday how long the curfew in the St. Louis suburb would continue, Nixon said the duration would be "judged by the community."
Nixon also said on Sunday that he appreciates the parallel investigation into the police shooting death that is being conducted by the U.S. Justice Department.
"I think that having the dual investigations will guarantee that it gets done in a timely fashion, that it's done thoroughly and that it gets justice," Nixon said.
Earlier Sunday, scores of demonstrators had remained in the streets after the curfew took effect at midnight.
Law enforcement officials used loudspeakers to warn protesters to disperse immediately. Officers, equipped with gas masks and full-length shields, stood among and on top of armored vehicles.
Nixon said Saturday the state of emergency was not to silence people but to contain a handful of looters who are endangering the community.
Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson, who was named by the governor this week to oversee security in the town, said protesters weren't the reason for the escalated police reaction early Sunday morning.
Johnson said they responded strongly Sunday out of fear for officers' safety. Johnson said canisters of smoke and later tear gas were fired as part of police attempts to reach the victim of a shooting at a restaurant, "and not in relation to the curfew."
The person shot at a restaurant during the night was in critical condition, Johnson said. Police were unable to identify the victim, whom Johnson said was not shot by police.
The wounded person was taken to hospital by bystanders before police could reach him.
Johnson also said someone had shot at a passing police car but was not apprehended. He said a city curfew will run each night from midnight until 5 a.m. until further notice.
Local media also reported Sunday the curfew would again be in force for a second night from midnight to 5:00 a.m. The governor told CNN on Sunday tensions in Ferguson were likely to remain high, citing the community response as "raw and appropriate."
Brown's family and supporters have demanded for days that the officer who shot Brown be held accountable.
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting for any civil rights violations, and the St. Louis County Police department is also investigating the shooting.
For days, police repeatedly refused to identify the officer involved, citing concerns for his safety. On Friday, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson gave in to community pressure and identified Darren Wilson, 28, as the officer involved.
But at the same time, Jackson added to the community's outrage when he announced Brown had been a suspect in the robbery of a convenience store at the time he was shot.
Jackson later told a news conference that when Wilson shot Brown, the officer did not know the teen was a suspect in the robbery. There was no connection between the shooting and the alleged robbery, Jackson said.
Nixon said the release of the video was "not right."
"Quite frankly we disagree deeply. I think for two reasons, number one to attempt, in essence, to disparage the character of this victim in the middle of a process like this is not right. It's just not right. And secondarily, it did put the community and quite frankly the region and the nation on alert again," Nixon said.
"I think it had an incendiary effect," he said on CBS' Face the Nation, adding police "clearly are attempting to besmirch a victim of a shooting."
Attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Brown's family, said in a statement issued on Friday that the family was "beyond outraged" at the police attempts to "assassinate the character of their son."
Other law enforcement agencies have criticized the Ferguson police department for trying to make the alleged robbery an issue connected to the shooting, and for releasing a video from inside the store that shows Brown violently shoving a store clerk before he walks out the door.
The U.S. Justice Department asked Ferguson police on Thursday not to release the video, out of a concern it would roil the community further, but on Friday it was released over the objections of federal officials, said a law enforcement official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.
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