Two officers shot, seriously injured outside Ferguson police department

Two police officers were seriously injured in a shooting early Thursday outside the Ferguson, Mo., police department amid new protests following the resignation of the town’s embattled police chief.

A 32-year-old officer from suburban Webster Groves was shot in the face and a 41-year-old officer from St. Louis County was shot in the shoulder, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said. Both were taken to a local hospital, where Belmar said they were conscious. He said he did not have further details about their conditions but described their injuries as « very serious, » but not life-threatening.

Authorities are searching for the gunman. No suspect has been identified.

The protest up to that point was relatively peaceful, but the sound of gunfire just after midnight sent protesters and police officers running for cover. Police dressed in riot gear dragged the injured officers to safety, The New York Times reported.

‘This is what they wanted to happen’

– Ferguson police officer reportedly said after the shooting

Witnesses told the paper they believed the gunshots came from the top of the hill about 220 yards from the station.

The shooting heightened tension at the protest.

« This is what they wanted to happen, » one Ferguson officer said, according to The Times. Another protester reportedly told the officer the statement was untrue.

Police Chief Thomas Jackson was the sixth employee to resign or be fired after a Justice Department report cleared a white former Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, of civil rights charges in the shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer. Wilson has since resigned. A separate Justice Department report found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in the city police department.

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March 11, 2015: Police form a line outside the Ferguson Police Department as people demonstrate nearby. Earlier in the day, the resignation of Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson was announced in the wake of a Justice Department report prompted by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Mayor James Knowles III announced Wednesday that the city had reached a mutual separation agreement with Jackson that will pay Jackson one year of his nearly $96,000 annual salary and health coverage. Jackson’s resignation becomes effective March 19, at which point Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff will become acting chief while the city searches for a replacement.

Jackson had previously resisted calls by protesters and some of Missouri’s top elected leaders to step down over his handling of Brown’s shooting and the weeks of sometimes-violent protests that followed. He was widely criticized from the outset, both for an aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency’s erratic and infrequent releases of key information.

He took nearly a week to publicly identify Wilson as the shooter and then further heightened tension in the community by releasing Wilson’s name at the same time as store security video that police said showed Brown stealing a box of cigars and shoving a clerk only a short time before his death.

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March 11: A protester yells at police outside the Ferguson Police Department, Wednesday, March 11, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

The acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division released a statement saying the U.S. government remains committed to reaching a « court-enforceable agreement » to address Ferguson’s « unconstitutional practices, » regardless of who’s in charge of the city.

A U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday the Justice Department had not pressured or encouraged Jackson to resign during meetings with him but had also not resisted the idea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing meetings between the Justice Department and the police department.

The resignation was welcomed by state lawmakers who represent Ferguson.

« There would be a lot of people that would approve of that, » said Democratic state Rep. Sharon Pace, who represents the neighborhood where Brown was shot.

Jackson oversaw the Ferguson force for nearly five years before the shooting that stirred months of unrest across the St. Louis region and drew global attention to the predominantly black city of 21,000.

In addition to Jackson, Ferguson’s court clerk was fired last week and two police officers resigned. The judge who oversaw the court system also resigned, and the City Council on Tuesday agreed to a separation agreement with the city manager.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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