St. Louis County Police take over security at Ferguson protests

A police officer walks under the tape marking the perimeter around the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri, March 12, 2015. (Reuters / Jim Young)
Following the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson early Thursday morning, the St. Louis County police force and the Missouri State Highway Patrol have announced they are taking over security at protests.

The change in responsibility will take place Thursday night, according to the St. Louis County Police Department.

The stepped-up security by St. Louis County comes after the early morning shooting that left two police officers injured as protests were winding down. Officials said the Ferguson Police Department will continue to carry out routine policing services in the city.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the rally was unusually rowdy and included fist-fights. Belmar said the crowd had dissipated to about 75 protesters, and about 20 to 25 officers were lined up, when three to four shots were fired. One officer was shot in the face, just below his right eye. The bullet lodged behind his ear. The other officer was shot in his right shoulder, with the bullet leaving out his back.

READ MORE:2 cops shot at rally near police station in Ferguson

The injured police officers were released from the hospital mid-morning. Police Chief Belmar told reporters they are not expected to have long-term injuries.

Police converged on a home in Ferguson on Thursday and have taken people in for questioning following the shooting. However, no one has been arrested.

The protests were prompted by the resignation of Ferguson’s police chief, the latest official to step down following a scathing Department of Justice report accusing the city courts and police of racial bias. Five other people have resigned since the report’s release a week ago.

READ MORE: ‘This is really an ambush’ – St. Louis police chief on Ferguson shooting

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said the officers were "intentionally targeted" during protests outside Ferguson's police station. The governor said his thoughts and prayers are with the officers.

Local protest leaders said the shootings of two police officers during the rally in Ferguson didn’t reflect their non-violent movement.

In an interview with Democracy Now, Rev. Osagyefo Sekou, a pastor who attended last night’s protest, said the idea that the shooter was embedded inside the group of protesters is not true.

All of a sudden, three to four shots rang out north of the protesters and north of the police station,” said Sekou. “And we all turned in the direction up a hill on a one-way street where the shots were coming from, and then we saw the officer down and screaming. And then, you know, chaos ensued. Everyone took cover. We began to help clear the lot to get people out safe.”

The police began to draw their weapons. A number of police cars headed toward the area. And we did all we could to get people out...the hill [is] on the one-way street that runs perpendicular into South Florissant, right in front of the police station.

READ MORE:Video emerges of Ferguson cops shooting (Warning: Strong language)

Sekou said people in Ferguson had been protesting peacefully and non-violently for over some 200 days until the Department of Justice report was released.

We are concerned that the protesters or this movement will be demonized for the shooting of the officers, and it is just a no-win situation for anyone involved and who has a stake in that,” Sekou told Democracy Now. “But we are nonetheless committed to nonviolence in this movement, and we will, in due time, in due respect, continue our activities to highlight the systematic injustice that the Department of Justice report articulated.”