Police stand guard moments after gun shots were fired outside the City of Ferguson Police Department and Municipal Court in Ferguson, Missouri, early March 12, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
Two police officers were shot outside the Ferguson Police Department early Thursday as protesters gathered following the resignation of the city's embattled police chief, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The shots were fired as what had earlier been a crowd of about 150 people had begun to dwindle, the newspaper reported. Some protesters fell to the ground and others ran. A huge police presence, including officers in riot gear, later surrounded the department.
Ferguson police Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff told the newspaper that he didn't think either officer was from his department. Eickhoff said he didn't know the extent of the officers' injuries.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson was the sixth employee to resign or be fired after a Justice Department report cleared 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. A separate Justice Department report found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in the city police department.
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.
Representatives from the St. Louis County Police Department and Ferguson Police Department could not immediately be reached Thursday. The Highway Patrol said troopers were headed to the scene but they could not provide any details.
TV station KSDK reported the officers were taken to a local hospital.
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.
Jackson 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.
During a 12-minute news conference, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said Jackson resigned after "a lot of soul-searching" about how the community could heal from the racial unrest stemming from the fatal shooting last summer.
"The chief is the kind of honorable man you don't have to go to," Knowles said. "He comes to you when he knows that this is something we have to seriously discuss."
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.
Besides 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.