CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — A man accused of shooting two officers last week in Ferguson was not targeting police or aiming at demonstrators at a late-night protest, his attorney said Monday as he countered an earlier police description of the crime.
Defense attorney Jerryl Christmas also suggested that St. Louis County police may have used excessive force when arresting the suspect, Jeffrey Williams, saying his client had bruises on his back, shoulders and face and a knot on his head.
Police spokesman Brian Schellman called the lawyer’s allegations “completely false,” adding that Williams was seen by a nurse when booked into the county jail, standard procedure for all incoming inmates.
“The nurse released Williams as fit for confinement,” he said.
Williams is accused of shooting the two officers Thursday outside Ferguson’s police station, which has been the scene of protests since last summer’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Williams, 20, appeared in court Monday morning, one day after his arrest on charges of felony assault, armed criminal action and a weapons offense. His case was continued until March 31. Christmas did not appear at the brief hearing and said he first spoke with his client late Monday afternoon.
“This wasn’t any type of ambush shooting,” Christmas said in an interview with the AP, countering an earlier description by St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar of the March 12 shooting outside Ferguson police headquarters. “Those officers were shot accidentally.”
Williams also told investigators he was not targeting law enforcement and had been aiming instead at someone with whom he had a dispute, authorities said. But that assertion was met with skepticism by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch.
“We’re not sure we completely buy that part of it,” the prosecutor said Sunday.
Christmas said he wasn’t aware of any details regarding a possible dispute that could have preceded the shooting.
But Ferguson activist Derrick Robinson said Sunday that Williams told him during a jail visit that he had been robbed earlier on the day of the shooting and returned to the protest zone to retaliate. On Monday, Robinson referred inquiries to Christmas.
The shooting happened as a demonstration began to break up. The protest followed the resignation of city Police Chief Tom Jackson in the wake of a Justice Department report that found widespread racial bias in the city’s police practices.
Christmas said his client was not a regular participant in demonstrations outside the police station, echoing statements by protest leaders who said they did not recognize Williams as one of their own.
“That little strip has become the hang-out spot,” Christmas said, noting that the area has attracted people besides demonstrators.
Williams is jailed on $300,000 bond. Christmas said his client is unemployed and expecting a child with his girlfriend.
On Monday, no one answered the door of the north St Louis County home Williams listed as his address on court records, and several neighbors said they did not know him. The home is about 5 miles northeast of the Ferguson Police Department.
According to 2014 county court records, Williams lived in the nearby community of Jennings, which borders Ferguson. No one answered the door there either.
Online state court records show a man by the name of Jeffrey Williams at the address police provided Sunday was charged in 2013 with receiving stolen property and fraudulent use of a credit/debit device.
Belmar had said the two officers easily could have been killed. A 41-year-old St. Louis County officer was shot in the right shoulder, the bullet exiting through his back. A 32-year-old officer from Webster Groves was wearing a riot helmet with the face shield up. He was shot in the right cheek, just below the eye, and the bullet lodged behind his ear.
The officers were released from the hospital hours after the attack.
The Ferguson Police Department has been a national focal point since Brown, who was black and unarmed, was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, who is white. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November, and Wilson was cleared of civil rights charges by a Justice Department report released March 4. Wilson resigned in November.
A separate Justice Department report found widespread racial bias in the city’s policing and in a municipal court system driven by profit extracted from mostly black and low-income residents.
Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.