A white St. Louis police officer responding to the scene at the end of a stolen car chase opened fire on and wounded a black off-duty police officer in what is being called a case of “friendly fire” by the St. Louis Police Department. However, the lawyer for the wounded officer contends that his client’s race was instrumental in his shooting.
A black off-duty police officer was wounded after being shot when he stepped outside of his home to assist in response to a stolen car crashing in his neighborhood, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday. The situation was already tense, as police officers exchanged gunfire with the three teens who had bailed out of the wrecked vehicle. According to CBS News, the teens in the car allegedly exchanged gunfire with police prior to the car chase that resulted in the crashed vehicle.
The off-duty officer had been ordered to the ground by two officers who saw him brandishing his police-issued firearm. After identifying the off-duty officer as a fellow cop, he was allowed to stand and was told to walk toward the other police officers. It was at this time that another officer showed up at the scene and, seeing the off-duty officer rise up (and not recognizing him), fired at the off-duty officer several times, one shot hitting the man in the arm.
According to the police report, the officer who fired his gun said he feared for his life.
The names of the officers involved have yet to be released. The off-duty police officer, 38 years old and a member of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department for 11 years, was transported to a local hospital, where he treated and released the following day. The officer who shot him is 36, with eight years of service.
According to Newsweek, the off-duty police officer’s lawyer, Rufus J. Tate Jr., told local media outlets that the police shooting was just another example of black men being perceived as threats by police officers.
“In the police report, you have so far, there is no description of [the] threat he received,” Tate said. “So we have a real problem with that. But this has been a national discussion for the past two years. There is this perception that a black man is automatically feared.”
To add to the confusion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the shooting victim was initially described to reporters by Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole as an off-duty police officer who had been caught in the cross-fire between the fleeing stolen car suspects and pursuing St. Louis officers.
The summary report later portrayed the incident as a case of “friendly fire,” the military designation for the mistaken targeting of a non-enemy as hostile or a threat. Regardless of the wording, seven of the officers, including the officer who shot the off-duty policemen, were placed on administrative leave.
“This is the first time that we are aware, that a black professional, in law enforcement, himself being shot and treated as an ordinary black guy on the street. This is a real problem,” Tate said, according to Newsweek.
Although it is unclear as to whether or not the lawyer was speaking specifically toward the incident as it pertains to St. Louis, this is not the first time a black off-duty cop has been shot by a fellow white police officer. In May, 2009, New York Police officer Omar Edwards was shot and killed by a fellow NYPD officer who opened fire on him after yelling at him to stop. According to the New York Daily News, Edwards, 25, was a rookie cop and was attempting to pursue a car thief when he was himself mistaken for a criminal.
As for the three suspects — all teens — in the stolen car incident in St. Louis, two were captured at the scene, one having been shot in the ankle in the crossfire. The third suspect has yet to be apprehended.
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