ST. LOUIS – An agitated crowd of nearly 200 people gathered at a St. Louis shooting scene, chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Police Chief Sam Dotson walked from a sidewalk press briefing toward the crowd at midday Tuesday. As he was describing the scene, someone scolded the others, “Listen up.” Another added, “Keep quiet.” Dotson said a city alderman had witnessed the shooting.
Afterward, Dotson said, “I want this message to be out as quickly and truthfully as possible.” The tension on the street seemed diminished.
Dotson spoke on the 8700 block of Riverview Boulevard, at McLaran Avenue, north of Calvary Cemetery. About 12:30 p.m., he said, two of his officers had shot and killed a man who, they said, attacked them with a knife.
The intersection is only two miles from West Florissant Avenue and Canfield Drive in the suburb of Ferguson, the scene of repeated protests and nighttime disturbances since the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, by a Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9.
City police officers and Dotson have been participating in some of the police actions on West Florissant. The “hands up” chant is a common refrain at the Ferguson protests.
Dotson gave this account of the shooting on Riverview:
A man, 23, walked out of the Six Stars Market, without paying for two energy drinks, and the store owner told him to stop. A few minutes later, the man came back and took a package of muffins or pastries, Dotson said, adding that the store owner walked out with him and asked him to pay for the items.
The man started throwing the items on the street and sidewalk. St. Louis Alderman Dionne Flowers, who works at a nearby beauty shop, witnessed the encounter and told officers the man was acting erratically and was grabbing at his waistband.
Dotson said the store owner and the alderman said the suspect was “armed with a knife, acting erratically, pacing back and forth in the street, talking to himself.”
Employees at the market and the beauty shop called 911. Two arriving officers ordered the man to get down, but he became more agitated and walked toward them, reaching for his waistband. Witnesses told police the man was yelling “Shoot me, kill me now” during the encounter, Dotson said.
The officers drew their weapons and ordered the man to stop. He did stop, but then pulled out a knife and came at the officers, gripping and holding it high, Dotson said. They ordered him to stop and drop the knife. When he got within two or three feet of the officers, they fired, killing the man.
“This is a lethal range for a knife,” Dotson said.
The officers were not hurt, police said. They were put on administrative duty pending an investigation.
When people gathered on Riverview began getting angrier, several older residents in the area got between those shouting and the police line and tried to calm the crowd. The shouts subsided but escalated again when Dotson appeared to be walking away.
That’s when he went into the midst of the crowd and reiterated all the details. Among the older residents who asked the others to let Dotson speak was Chris Carter Sr., father of Alderman Chris Carter.
Asked why the officers didn’t use Tasers, Dotson said police have the right to defend themselves from a deadly weapon. “Officers have a reasonable expectation to go home at the end of their shift,” he said.
About 50 officers were on the scene.
An employee answering the phone at the Six Stars Market declined to comment. Flowers could not be reached.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said in an interview on Tuesday that he will demand transparency.
“We want to make sure this is handled in a transparent way,” Slay said.
Slay said officials have already been in contact with the U.S. Attorney’s office, in addition to clergy leaders.
Slay said the city is “fully prepared” to handle any protests that could come as a result of the shooting, especially in light of the events in Ferguson.
“We are very aware of the high emotion,” Slay said.
A crowd remained at the shooting scene through the afternoon. A worker at Golden Shears Barber & Beauty Shop said she was removing valuables in case someone tried to break in.
Joel Currier, Michele Munz and Nicholas Pistor of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.