St Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared state of emergency on Monday in Ferguson, Missouri after protests on the anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer turned violent.
The state of emergency was declared because of "the potential for harm to persons and property,” Stenger said.
The decision came after prosecutors charged a young man, Tyrone Harris, and arrested several others involved in a shootout between gangs and police officers on Sunday night in the demonstrations to protest the shooting of Brown and other unarmed black men across the United States by police.
Harris (18) was charged with four criminal counts, including "assault on law enforcement" and “shooting at a motor vehicle.”
His bond was set at $250,000.
St Louis County Police Chief, John Belmar said in a news conference that one man was in critical, unstable condition and was undergoing surgery after he was shot at by four plainclothes police officers.
Police said that the young gunman opened fire on four plainclothes police officers while fleeing a gang shootout on West Florissant Avenue, Ferguson’s main street. The officers returned fire after the gunman fired shots “right at the grill of the car,” an unmarked police vehicle identified by flashing blue and red light
According to police, Sunday’s gunfire began when two groups of “provocateurs” were shooting each other before a gunman ran across a parking lot and was confronted by police officers in civilian clothing.
They said Harris opened fire on the police vehicle and was injured in the exchange of gunshots with officials.
St Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the shooters "were criminals; they weren't protesters," estimating that 40 rounds had been fired in the exchange.
"We can't sustain this as a community," he said, “we can't afford to have this kind of violence. It's untenable at this point.”
Harris' father claimed his son did not have a gun at the time of the shooting.
"He was running for his ... life because someone was shooting at him," Tyrone Harris, Sr said in a telephone interview from his St Louis-area home.
Some activist groups said the officers with plainclothes should not have entered the scene.
"It was a poor decision to use plain clothes officers in a protest setting because it made it difficult for people to identify police officers, which is essential to the safety of community members,” a field organiser, Kayla Reed, said.
Belmar called the shooting “a tragedy for the family of this man and the officers involved.”
While details regarding the shootout are still surfacing, Belmar said “several shots rang out” in a span of 40 to 50 seconds, and added that the rumours regarding a second round of shots fired and further injuries were “less than reliable.”
St Louis County Police would not release the race of the four officers involved in the shooting, who have been placed on administrative leave until their psychological evaluation and an investigation into the shooting can be completed.
The death of Michael Brown a year ago had triggered nationwide protests, mostly peaceful but occasionally veering towards vandalism and looting. The incident started a national debate in the United States regarding race, especially about systemic racism endured by black communities at the hands of the police force.