FERGUSON, Mo. — The police in Ferguson broke their weeklong silence Friday and identified the officer involved in the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager, saying the teenager was believed to have taken part in a robbery at a nearby convenience store shortly before the shooting.
The Ferguson police chief, Thomas Jackson, said the officer was Darren Wilson, a six-year veteran of the force who had no disciplinary actions taken against him. Jackson did not disclose any other information about the officer.
Jackson said Wilson had been alerted to the robbery shortly before the encounter with the teenager, Michael Brown, 18, who was walking home from a store on Saturday when he was shot.
The Ferguson police released security camera video after the news conference that showed a confrontation inside the store about 15 minutes before Saturday’s shooting. The images show a man, identified by the police as Brown, who appears to be pushing a store clerk.
The police said Brown, who was in the store with a friend, had stolen a box of Swisher Sweets cigars. When confronted by the clerk, Brown “forcefully pushed him back into a display rack” before leaving, a police report said.
Brown’s death had ignited several days of protests that have been quashed by police officers shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at groups of demonstrators.
Earlier, Jackson said the authorities thought it was an appropriate time to identify the officer.
“A lot of the stakeholders had a big meeting conversation yesterday, and then yesterday evening,” Jackson told a St. Louis television station, “and we made the determination that today is the day.”
“Nothing specific went into that decision, but we feel that there’s a certain calm,” he said. “There’s a huge outcry from the community.”
Jackson’s initial refusal to reveal the officer’s name had galvanized demonstrators and prompted civil rights groups to go to court to force its release. Jackson had said that his unwillingness to disclose the name had been based on safety concerns after death threats against the officer and his family were posted on social media.
On Thursday, Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri Highway Patrol to take control of security and crowd control in Ferguson, replacing the St. Louis County Police Department, which has been criticized for its heavy-handed tactics against protesters. Wednesday night’s protests ended with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.
The difference in tactics and tone was apparent almost immediately here. On Thursday night, the armored vehicles and police cars were gone, and the atmosphere was celebratory. A street barricaded on previous nights was filled with slow-moving cars blasting their horns. There were few signs of police officers, let alone a forceful response.
Clashes between the heavily armed police officers and furious protesters in Ferguson have defined the aftermath of Brown’s death Saturday, and the latest moves came as federal and state officials scrambled to quell the growing crisis. Alarm had been rising across the country at images of a mostly white police force, in a predominantly African-American community, aiming military-style weapons at protesters.
Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, the highway patrol official appointed by the governor to take over the response, immediately signaled a change in approach. Johnson told reporters he had ordered troopers to remove their tear-gas masks, and in the early evening he accompanied several groups of protesters through the streets, clasping hands, listening to stories and marching alongside them.
“We’re just starting today anew. We’re starting a new partnership today,” said Johnson, who is African-American and grew up in the area. “We’re going to move forward today, to put yesterday and the day before behind us.”