Law enforcement officials are investigating Jeffrey Williams’ contention that he had an altercation with others during last Thursday’s march in Ferguson after its police chief was fired, leading Williams to return to the scene seeking retribution. When his shots from a hill on a side street hit a pair of veteran law enforcement officers, Williams said he had targeted the persons he had encountered earlier and not the wounded officers.
Neither police nor the St. Louis County district attorney are convinced Williams, 20, is telling the truth. But they will figure out the reality through an exhaustive investigation, D.A, Brian McCollough said.
“We’re not 100 percent sure that there was a dispute,” McCollough said. “That’s part of the claim right now. It’s possible that there was a dispute. It’s possible that he was targeting police officers. We just have to wait for the investigation to develop.”
Williams was arrested Sunday for the shooting of the officers in Ferguson last week during a peaceful demonstration. McCollough said Williams was charged with two counts of first degree assault and firing weapon from vehicles, among other violations. The assault charges carry a life-in prison-sentence.
Williams admitted to being the shooter, according to McCollough. A 40-caliber hand gun was found at his residence, he added, and it matched the shell casings at the scene.
“He has acknowledge his participation, that he did fire the shots that struck the two officers,” McCollough said at a news conference Sunday
Williams is being held on a cash-only $300,000 bond. McCollough said the investigation is ongoing and that information from the public was pivotal in identifying Williams.
“There’s still an awful lot to be done,” he said. “This case developed through members of the public. I can’t stress how important how that is. . . It’s been invaluable. And we believe there are a lot more people who could provide more insight.”
Witnesses say three shots were heard, two striking the who were standing side-by-side. Webster Groves, 32 and a seven-year veteran, was shot in the face, officials said. The bullet entered under his right eye and lodged behind his ear, where it remains. The other officer, not yet identified, but from the county police force, was shot in the shoulder, and the bullet came out his back, officials said. That officer is 41 years old and a 14-year veteran.
The shots were fired from a hill as far away 125 yards away, the authorities said. McCollough said at least one of the shots were fired by Williams from inside a car. Investigators are determining if others were with Williams, on probation for receiving stolen goods, or somehow involved. Early indications are, McCollough said, that Williams was the lone shooter.
A Justice Department investigation found widespread racism in the Ferguson department and court system, leading to major fallouts that could continue. The Thursday demonstration was in response to the announcement that the police chief in Ferguson, Thomas Jackson, was resigning.
Protests have been ongoing since officer Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown on a Ferguson street last August 9. Most of the protests in Ferguson—and around the country—have been peaceful and purposeful.
But the shooting intensified anxieties in Ferguson, where residents were already upset with treatment by police but have been more determined after the Justice Department findings confirmed their concerns. Citizens have been wary of law enforcement retaliation to the shootings, but there have been no reports of major incidents since Thursday.