An 18-year-old African American man was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in St. Louis on Wednesday night. The deceased man, Vonderitt Myers, Jr., was with two other men when an off-duty St. Louis officer moonlighting as a neighborhood security guard approached them.
St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson told reporters late Wednesday night that it was their strange behavior that caused the officer to follow the men.
“Officers are trained to notice unusual behavior,” he said. “One of them—all three—did run at some point.”
The officer, who was not identified, got into a physical altercation with Myers before he ran away, then turned and fired three shots at the officer, who fired back 17 times, killing him.
“Even after the suspect fired three shots at the officer, he continued,” Dotson told reporters, and added that the man’s 9mm Ruger malfunctioned and jammed. “The officer returned fire as he was being shot at.”
The officer was unharmed.
Though the Ruger was recovered at the scene afterward, Dotson couldn’t confirm reports that Myers had bought a turkey sandwich just before the deadly altercation. There have been questions and speculation that the sandwich may have been mistaken for a gun. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Myers was seen ten minutes before his death buying the sandwich and a soda at a market.
Dotson said that Myers, though only 18, was “no stranger to law enforcement.”
Newly Created Unit
The incident will be the first chance for the St. Louis Police Department to use their newly created Force Investigative Unit, which was created in the wake of the August shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown to perform internal reviews and a criminal analysis of all police shootings.
The results of the investigation will be passed on to the circuit attorney’s office, which will then make a decision about whether the use of force was warranted and if the officer acted in accordance with the law. The officer who shot Myers is a 6-year veteran of the police department.
After news came out about Wednesday night’s shooting, there were protests in the St. Louis neighborhood where it happened, which is known as Shaw. Several hundred people converged on the area. Officials said some were drawn in by social media and encouragement from protesters in Ferguson, about 30 minutes away, who also joined.
Kicking Police Cars
Local media footage showed protesters circling marked and unmarked police cars, kicking the vehicles, banging on windows, and ripping off windshield wipers. Police said they also “shouted obscenities” at officers.
“Tensions in the region are very high—any police officer use of force certainly will draw attention,” said Dotson, who said that damage to several police cars included smashed windows and some body damage.