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Updated: Thu, 14 Aug 2014 12:51:04 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Michael Brown shooting: Police defend use of tear gas, smoke bombs



A protester throws back a smoke bomb while clashing with police in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014. Police in Ferguson fired several rounds of tear gas to disperse protesters late on Wednesday, on the fourth night of demonstrations over the fatal shooting last weekend of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, 18, by a police officer on Saturday after what police said was a struggle with a gun in a police car. A witness in the case told local media that Brown had raised his arms to police to show that he was unarmed before being killed. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (© UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST)

A protester throws back a smoke bomb while clashing with police in Ferguson, Missouri August 13, 2014. Police in Ferguson fired several rounds of tear gas to disperse protesters late on Wednesday, on the fourth night of demonstrations over the fatal shooting last weekend of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, 18, by a police officer on Saturday after what police said was a struggle with a gun in a police car. A witness in the case told local media that Brown had raised his arms to police to show that he was unarmed before being killed. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST) - RTR42CPM Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Police on Thursday defended the use of tear gas and smoke bombs to repel protesters after another night of chaos in a St. Louis suburb following the shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The city and county are also under criticism for refusing to release the name of the officer who shot Brown, citing threats against that officer and others. The hacker group anonymous released a name purported to be the officer's on Thursday, but The Associated Press could not immediately verify that the name was correct.

Meanwhile, St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman said officers on Wednesday night tossed tear gas to disperse a large crowd of protesters after some threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at officers. More than 10 people were arrested in Ferguson.

"In talking to these guys, it is scary," Schellman said of officers on the front lines of the protest. "They hear gunshots going off, and they don't know where they're coming from."

But the police response is drawing criticism from many circles. Civil rights activist Al Sharpton called Thursday for the Justice Department to monitor Ferguson and the way police are handling the crisis.

The police chiefs of Ferguson and St. Louis County said Wednesday that race relations were the top priority in the town, where a white police officer fatally shot the black teen. Authorities have vowed to reach across the racial, economic and generational divide in a community in search of answers. A meeting was scheduled for Thursday between civil rights leaders and police.

Officers from multiple departments in riot gear and in military equipment have clashed nightly with protesters, who chant, "Hands up, don't shoot." Protesters faced heavily armed police who at times trained weapons on them from armored trucks.

10 arrests, 2 journalists briefly detained

Earlier, Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post said they were handcuffed and put into a police van after officers came in to quickly clear the fast-food restaurant where they were doing some work. The Washington Post reported that Lowery said he was slammed against a soda machine and plastic cuffs were put on his wrists. Reilly told MSNBC that an officer slammed his head against the glass "purposefully" on the way out of the restaurant "and then sarcastically apologized for it." The reporters were subsequently released without any charges.

Martin D. Baron, The Washington Post's executive editor, issued a statement saying "there was absolutely no justification" for Lowery's arrest and said the organization was appalled by the officers' conduct.

Ryan Grim, Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Huffington Post, said in a statement that "compared to some others who have come into contact with the police department, they came out relatively unscathed, but that in no way excuses the false arrest or the militant aggression toward these journalists."

Meanwhile, there were reports of other confrontations with the media.

Jackson did not immediately return a cellphone message Wednesday night from the AP seeking comment about the arrests.

Jackson has faced mounting demands from protesters, clergy and even hackers to reveal the identity of the officer who shot Brown. Jackson argues that revealing that detail could bring retribution to the officer.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that about 10 people had been arrested, including St. Louis Alderman Antonio French, who has been chronicling the protests on social media. Police had said earlier they would not have arrest information until early Thursday.

Residents in Ferguson have complained about what they called a heavy-handed police presence that began with the use of dogs for crowd control soon after Brown's shooting — a tactic that for some invoked the spectre of civil rights protests a half-century ago. The county police force took over leading both the investigation of Brown's shooting and the subsequent attempts to keep the peace at the smaller city's request.

County police Chief Jon Belmar, though, said his officers have responded with "an incredible amount of restraint," as they've been the targets of rocks, bottles and gunshots, with two dozen patrol vehicles being destroyed.

"It's pretty amazing how impressed I am and inspired by these officers," he said. "This is a very difficult circumstance."

Police had also asked earlier that people assemble in "an organized and respectful" manner and disperse before evening.

Race relations 'top priority' of police

The city and county are also under criticism for refusing to release the name of the officer involved in Brown's shooting, citing threats against that officer and others.

Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson called improving race relations "the top priority right now" but also said he won't be pressured into publicly identifying the officer — despite, he said, mounting demands from clergy, computer hackers and protesters.

"We have the right to know, and the family has the right to know who murdered their son," said Sahari Gutierrez, a 27-year-old Ferguson legal assistant.

Jackson said he also welcomes Justice Department training on racial relations in the suburb, where two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black while all but three of the police force's 53 officers are white.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon cited the "worsening situation" in Ferguson in saying he would be in the area Thursday. He asked community members to be patient and calm while the investigation proceeds and urged law enforcement agencies to "keep the peace and respect the rights of residents and the press."

Conflicting accounts of Brown's final moments

Jackson said the investigation remains weeks away from completion.

Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer's weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car.

The struggle then spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. In their initial news conference about the shooting, police didn't specify whether Brown was the person who scuffled with the officer in the car and have refused to clarify their account.

Jackson said Wednesday that the officer involved sustained swelling facial injuries.

Dorian Johnson, who says he was with Brown when the shooting happened, has told a much different story. He has told media outlets that the officer ordered them out of the street, then tried to open his door so close to the men that it "ricocheted" back, apparently upsetting the officer.

Johnson says the officer grabbed his friend's neck, then tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He says Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times. Johnson and another witness both say Brown was on the street with his hands raised when the officer fired at him repeatedly.

Among the protesters critical of the police response has been state Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal, a Democrat from nearby University City

"I just want to know if I'm going to be gassed again, like I was on Monday night?" she asked Jackson at a press conference. "And I was peaceful. And I'm your state senator."

"I hope not," he replied.

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