Police, protesters clash in St. Louis after ex-cop acquitted of murdering black man

Police, protesters clash in St. Louis after ex-cop acquitted of murdering black man

By Valerie Volcovici and Kenny Bahr

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets during clashes with protesters in St Louis early on Saturday after a white former policeman was acquitted of murdering a black suspect.

A peaceful rally over Friday’s not guilty verdict turned violent after police confronted a small group of demonstrators – three years after the shooting of another black suspect in the nearby suburb of Ferguson stirred nationwide anger and debate.

Officers fired tear gas as people broke windows at a library and two restaurants and threw bricks and water bottles at officers. Protesters also threw rocks and paint at the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, said Acting Police Commissioner Lawrence O’Toole.

Nine city officers and a state trooper were injured and at least 23 people were taken into custody, he said.

Former city policeman Jason Stockley, 36, was found not guilty of the first-degree murder of Anthony Lamar Smith, 24, shot to death on Dec. 20, 2011.

After the ruling, around 600 protesters marched from the courthouse through downtown St. Louis, chanting “No justice, no peace” and “Hey hey! Ho ho! These killer cops have got to go!” Some held “Black Lives Matter” signs.

“I’m sad, I’m hurt, I’m mad,” Reverend Clinton Stancil of the Wayman AME Church in St. Louis said by telephone. “We haven’t made any progress since Ferguson, that’s clear. Cops can still kill us with impunity.”

Men protest outside the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department after the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Whitney Curtis

Men protest outside the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department after the not guilty verdict in the murder trial of Jason Stockley, a former St. Louis police officer, charged with the 2011 shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, who was black, in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., September 15, 2017. REUTERS/Whitney Curtis

“NO PROGRESS SINCE FERGUSON”

Ferguson became the focal point of a national debate on race relations after white officer Darren Wilson shot dead black teenager Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. Protests and clashes broke out after a grand jury cleared the officer, giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

After Friday’s verdict, one group of demonstrators tried to climb onto Interstate 40 but was blocked by police. Another group blocked an intersection by sitting down in the street for six minutes of silence.

After most protesters drifted away, a smaller group of people police described as “agitators” lingered on the streets in an upscale neighborhood near the mayor’s house. The group taunted officers who arrived in riot gear by the busload.

“Reports of bricks thrown at police. That’s not protest. That’s a crime. We stand behind our officers. This violence won’t be tolerated,” Missouri Governor Eric Greitens said on Twitter.

Smith was shot five times in his car after trying to flee Stockley and his partner, following an alleged drug deal, authorities said.

Prosecutors said that during the pursuit, Stockley could be heard saying on an internal police car video he was going to kill Smith.

At Stockley’s direction, his partner, who was driving, slammed the police cruiser into Smith’s vehicle and they came to a stop. Stockley then approached Smith’s car and opened fire with his service weapon, court documents said.

The former policeman believed Smith was armed, defense attorneys said, and a gun was found in the car. But prosecutors argued Stockley planted the weapon and that the gun had only Stockley’s DNA on it.

Stockley’s attorney, Neil Bruntrager, said his client was relieved at the verdict. “It’s been a long road for him,” Bruntrager said.

St. Louis prosecutor Kimberly Gardner called on protesters to avoid violence.

“I understand the verdict has created anger and frustration for many in our community,” she told reporters at the courthouse.

Stockley waived his right to a jury trial, allowing the judge to decide. He left the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in 2013 and was arrested last year.

Smith’s family settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the city for $900,000 in 2013, according to Al Watkins, an attorney for Smith’s fiancée, Christina Wilson.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Chris Kenning in Louisville, Kentucky and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Andrew Heavens)

St. Louis reaches deal to remove Confederate monument

FILE PHOTO: Red paint is seen on a vandalized Confederate Memorial in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri in this photo from St. Louis' Mayor's office released on June 24, 2015.REUTERS/St. Louis Office of the Mayor/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By Chris Kenning

(Reuters) – A controversial Confederate monument in St. Louis will be dismantled by the end of the week under an agreement announced on Monday, city officials said.

The granite and bronze memorial was the latest Confederate monument to be targeted as U.S. cities remove the structures seen as reminders of slavery and the racism that underpinned it.

St. Louis reached the agreement with the Missouri Civil War Museum and other groups after a lawsuit halted the city’s effort to dismantle the 32-foot memorial earlier this month, according to the mayor’s office.

The museum will pay for the removal by June 30 and store it until a new location can be found at a museum, a battlefield or a cemetery that must be outside the city, according to a copy of the agreement.

Workers were already taking apart the monument in the city’s Forest Park on Monday, shortly after the settlement was announced, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“We wanted it down,” St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said at a live-streamed news conference on Monday, explaining that the structure symbolized slavery.

The push to remove Confederate monuments accelerated after the 2015 murder of nine African-Americans by an avowed white supremacist at a South Carolina church sparked a national debate about symbols of racism.

New Orleans recently dismantled the last of four Confederate statues that stood in the city, and Kentucky moved a Confederate monument from the University of Louisville campus to outside the city in Brandenburg, Kentucky.

The St. Louis monument, located on the park’s Confederate Drive, which may also be renamed, was dedicated in December 1914 by the Ladies’ Confederate Monument Association, according to the website of Forest Park Forever, which partners with the city to maintain the park. It depicts The Angel of the Spirit of the Confederacy hovering above a bronze sculpture of a family sending a soldier off to war.

It has been repeatedly vandalized with graffiti reading “Black Lives Matter” and “End Racism,” according to news reports, and the city has discussed removing it for several years.

Patsy Limpus, who heads the United Daughters of the Confederacy Missouri Division and the St. Louis Confederate Monument Association, also party to the agreement, told the Post-Dispatch Monday that the monument helped residents learn from history.

“Even though some people don’t like, it is part of history,” she said.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; Editing by Andrew Hay)

St. Louis man charged over bomb threats to Jewish groups

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A disgraced former journalist made eight bomb threats to Jewish organizations across the United States, including one in which he called for a “Jewish Newtown,” posing as an ex-girlfriend to retaliate after she had broken up with him, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday.

Juan Thompson, 31, was taken into custody on Friday morning in St. Louis, the first arrest to result from a federal investigation into a surge of threats against Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) and schools that has rattled American Jews.

Authorities are examining more than 100 threats made against JCCs by phone in five waves this year, which appear to be unrelated to the Thompson allegations. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey met with Jewish leaders on Friday morning to discuss the ongoing investigation.

A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan accused Thompson of making threats, mostly by email, against organizations including a Jewish museum in New York and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). All occurred after the first flood of phone threats in early January.

The hoax threats against JCCs have stoked fears of a resurgence in anti-Semitism and forced many centers to be evacuated, including some with day care for young children.

Prosecutors said Thompson aimed to portray his ex-girlfriend as an anti-Semite, a characterization he repeated on Twitter. It was unclear if he shared those sentiments, and his recent posts did not include explicit anti-Semitic thoughts.

But the ADL said he had been “on the radar” due to activities, including “rants against white people.”

Thompson was a reporter for the Intercept, a news website, until he was fired last year for allegedly inventing sources and quotes.

Intercept editor Betsy Reed said in a statement that the website was “horrified” by his arrest.

‘NASTY RACIST WHITE GIRL’

The Intercept said in February 2016 that Thompson had employed a fake email account to pose as a source in an effort to hide his fabrications.

After his girlfriend broke up with him in July 2016, prosecutors said, Thompson used the same technique in a sustained harassment campaign against her.

A day after the relationship ended, Thompson sent an email purporting to be from a producer at a national news organization to her boss at a social service company in New York, according to the complaint. The email claimed she had been pulled over for drunk driving and sued for spreading a sexually transmitted disease.

In the following weeks, the woman received messages from a supposed relative of Thompson, falsely claiming Thompson was on his deathbed after a shooting.

Thompson later threatened to publicize nude photos of her, prosecutors said. He also sent a message to a national children’s welfare organization, claiming she admitted watching child pornography.

In late January, Thompson began emailing bomb threats to Jewish groups using his own name and then accused her on Twitter of having framed him. He also sent threats pretending to be her, according to the complaint.

The “Jewish Newtown” email apparently referred to the massacre of 26 children and educators at a Connecticut school in 2012.

On Feb. 24, he posted on Twitter, “Know any good lawyers? Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name.”

Thompson was due to appear in federal court in St. Louis later Friday on one count of cyberstalking. It was not clear whether he had a lawyer.

The ex-girlfriend could not be reached for comment.

Authorities said they were still investigating the rash of threats against JCCs, as well as the desecration of headstones at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Rochester, New York.

St. Louis police will question Thompson about the city’s graveyard vandalism, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Gina Cherelus in New York and Dustin Volz in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Jewish cemetery vandalized in New York, third case in two weeks

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Gannam

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The vandalism of more than a dozen headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Rochester is being investigated by a New York hate crime task force, the third known case of a Jewish cemetery desecration in the country in the last two weeks.

Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he ordered the investigation at Waad Hakolel Cemetery given the wave of bomb threats that later proved hoaxes targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism at Jewish cemeteries in Philadelphia and St. Louis.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has condemned the threats and attacks, although he has at times also questioned whether some perpetrators might be opponents of his seeking to link his new presidency with a rise in anti-Semitism.

Trump’s election campaign last year drew support from some white nationalists and right-wing groups, despite his disavowals of them.

Besides the toppling of headstones at the Rochester cemetery, images of the deceased embedded on at least half a dozen headstones had been scratched away, although it was not clear how long ago, said Karen Elam, the director of community relations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

“It’s clear vandalism,” she said in a telephone interview after touring the cemetery on Thursday afternoon to photograph the damage. “Any vandalism of a Jewish cemetery is de facto anti-Semitism.”

Michael Phillips, president of the non-profit organization that oversees the cemetery, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper that there was no proof the vandalization was a case of anti-Semitism, citing the smaller scale of the damage in Rochester.

About 100 headstones were knocked over at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia last weekend, and about 170 headstones were knocked over in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

Officials at the cemetery in Rochester did not return calls seeking comment. In 2014, vandals toppled more than 40 headstones at another Jewish cemetery near Rochester, but local police concluded the vandalism was not motivated by anti-Semitism, the Democrat & Chronicle reported.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)

Muslims raise $78,000-plus for vandalized Jewish cemetery in Missouri

Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tom Gannam

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Muslim Americans have helped raise more than $78,000 to repair vandalized headstones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, according to an online fundraising page, amid attacks and threats against Jewish institutions.

About 170 headstones were toppled or damaged at the century-old Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery over the weekend, according to cemetery staff.

Some Jewish groups described the vandalism and threats as the latest evidence that anti-Semitic groups have been emboldened by the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president. His campaign last year drew the support of white nationalists and right-wing groups, despite his disavowals of them.

“Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration,” the fundraisers said on their website. More than 2,700 people had donated $78,546 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Jewish community centers across the United States have reported a surge in bomb threats, all of which have so far proved to be hoaxes. On Wednesday afternoon, the Anti-Defamation League, one of the country’s most prominent Jewish advocacy groups, said its national headquarters in New York City received an anonymous bomb threat but was later given the all clear.

Trump condemned the threats as anti-Semitism for the first time on Tuesday after repeatedly declining to do so when asked by journalists last week. Some Jewish organizations have criticized his approach, saying they fear that the groups that supported Trump had become more active.

The fundraising effort was launched by Linda Sarsour, a liberal political activist, and Tarek El-Messidi, the founding director of Celebrate Mercy, a non-profit organization that teaches the public about Mohammad, the founder of Islam.

On Tuesday night, Sarsour posted on Twitter that she was raising the funds “in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers.”

Sarsour was a supporter of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in his bid to become the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, and went on to become one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, which drew record crowds to the capital on Jan. 21, the day after Trump’s inauguration.

Cemetery staff, who did not respond to a request for comment, were still calculating the cost of repairing the damaged tombstones as of Tuesday. The organizers of the fundraising campaign said they would donate any excess funds to repair “any other vandalized Jewish centers.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; editing by Grant McCool)

Death Toll Rises as Floodwaters Continue to Plague Missouri, Other States

Large portions of the central United States remained under flood warnings on Thursday morning as high waters continued to wreak havoc on dozens of riverside communities.

The National Weather Service issued the warnings for significant swaths of Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, where floodwaters reached historic levels following a powerful winter storm, but also issued isolated flood warnings throughout the southeast. The service also issued flash flooding watches in large portions of Florida, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

While floodwaters began to recede in many locations, particularly around hard-hit greater St. Louis, they remained at critically high levels. The National Weather Service warned that towns and cities further south along the Mississippi River could experience “significant river flooding” into mid-January as the massive amounts of water flowed downstream, according to its website.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 365 river gauges remained at flood stages on Thursday, 44 of which were at “major flooding” levels. The river gauges don’t always consider lakes, creeks or streams, many of which also breached their banks.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who declared a state of emergency and mobilized the National Guard in the wake of the flooding, said the floods are responsible for killing 14 people in the state, according to a news release from his office. The Missouri Department of Transportation said at least 200 roads were submerged statewide early Thursday, according to a news release.

A busy 21-mile stretch of Interstate 44 remained closed near St.Louis, and the statement from Nixon’s office indicated it was the first time floodwaters shut down the road since 1982.

The Meramec River in Valley Park, Missouri, near St. Louis, crested at a record level of 44.11 feet early Thursday, according to the NOAA, which was more than four feet above a 33-year-old record and only the second time the river reached 38 feet in the past century. The river receded slightly to 43.57 feet later Thursday, the NOAA said, but that was still 27 feet above flood stage.

The community ordered those in low-lying areas to evacuate as the waters surged toward historic heights, according to a posting on its Facebook page. The city is protected by a levee, the posting indicates, but there was still “significant flooding” in several portions of the city.

The Meramec River flooding also damaged “hundreds of homes and businesses” in Pacific, Missouri, according to the governor’s office. The city, located upstream from Valley Park, crested just shy of its all-time record, the NOAA said, but that was still 18 feet above flood stage.

As the waters departed Valley Park and Pacific, they arrived further downstream.

NOAA data indicates the Meramec River in Arnold climbed to an all-time high of 47.22 feet on Thursday morning, nearly two feet above the record and roughly 23 feet above flood stage. The city recommended people evacuate because of the danger to residences, according to its website.

The Meramec flows into the Mississippi River, and communities downstream were expected to see waters rise further. In Chester, Illinois, the NOAA said waters were already at 44.26 feet on Thursday, 17 feet above flood stage and its second-highest level ever, and forecasts called for another 3-foot rise this week. Several roads in the city were already closed, its website indicates.

“This historic flooding event will continue to cause significant hazards and disruptions – from Missourians being forced from their homes, to businesses temporarily closing, to traffic congestion and impacts on interstate commerce due to the closure of a major trucking corridor,” Nixon said in a statement. “I thank the many Missourians who are assisting their neighbors by providing rooms in their homes, helping with sandbagging efforts and countless other acts of kindness.”

Missouri wasn’t the only state affected by the extreme weather.

The storm dumped snow, ice and rain throughout Oklahoma, prompting Governor Mary Fallin to extend a state of emergency. The state Department of Emergency Management reported Wednesday evening that five people lost their lives and another 104 were injured in the storm.

Earlier this week, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said “significant issues related to flooding” had occurred in seven counties and he issued a disaster proclamation for those areas, according to a news release from his office.

St. Louis Landfill Fire Gets Closer to Radioactive Waste

An underground fire at Bridgeton Landfill, located about 20 miles from downtown St. Louis, has been smoldering since 2010 with radioactive waste buried less than 1000 yards away at West Lake Landfill. The West Lake Landfill was designated as an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site in 1990, but the federal government is still deciding how to clean up the waste.

Missouri Attorney General  Koster released reports last month that showed  radioactive waste has contaminated trees and groundwater outside the perimeter of the landfill, where World War II-era uranium byproducts were dumped illegally in the 1970s.

“It’s no longer just underneath the landfill itself.  It has migrated through the air and groundwater and we have expert testimony that we’re going to present that shows that,” he said.

Koster is speaking of the on going lawsuit against the owner of  the Bridgeton and West Lake Landfills, Republic Services, to force them to clean up the locations.  Koster filed a lawsuit against the company in 2013, claiming negligent management and violation of state environmental laws, the Associated Press reported. The case is scheduled to go to trial in March 2016.

In a recently revealed St. Louis County emergency response plan it was noted that there is potential for radioactive fallout with no warning. At least 4 area school districts sent letters to parents on Monday explaining their plans to evacuate or shelter students and close off air intakes to limit exposure should the fire reach the radioactive dumping area.

Superintendent of the Pattonville School District wrote, “We remain frustrated by the situation at the landfill. This impacts not only our community, but the entire St. Louis region.”

Analysts with Republic Services show the company’s gas wells aimed at keeping the smoldering heat from reaching the radioactive waste have been successful. The Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees West Lake Landfill as a toxic Superfund site, has also made repeated assurances that it is safe and in an AP report has accused the Missouri Attorney General of causing “public angst and confusion.”

Landfill spokesman Russ Knocke told KMOX St. Louis, “Bridgeton Landfill, whose management team works closely with the region’s first responder community, is safe and intensively monitored.”

Armed Black Teenager Shot After Pulling Gun On White Officer

An 18-year-old black teenager who pulled a gun on police officers was shot and killed in the St. Louis area.  Protesters descended on the scene immediately after the shooting and proceeded to clash with police.

St. Louis County PD said that a police officer conducting a routine check on a Mobil gas station at 11:15 p.m. saw two men outside the store and approached them.  Antonio Martin pulled a gun on the officer and was shot by the officer.

The protesters that stormed the scene attacked police officers, threw some kind of explosive device at the police and also tried to burn down a QuikTrip store.  Four people were arrested in the assault on the officers.

Police say Martin had a criminal record that included three assaults, armed robbery, armed criminal action and multiple weapons violations.

The family of Antonio Martin is claiming that he wasn’t with another man but with his girlfriend and that he didn’t have a gun despite the evidence that shows otherwise.  A 9 mm handgun with the serial number filed off was found next to the body of Martin.  A video of the incident showed Martin pointing the gun at the officer.

“When he was around me, he knew to do right,” Margret Chandler, Martin’s grandmother, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Why would he pull out a gun against the police? That’s the thing I don’t get. It just doesn’t add up.”