By Nick Carey
FERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) – Authorities in Missouri on Thursday stood by their earlier decision to withhold the name of the police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, but denied he was the person identified online by a hacker activist.
Demonstrators and the family of the victim, 18-year-old Michael Brown, have called on police to release the name of the officer, but officials have refused to do so, citing security concerns.
Among the concerns, they said, are online threats from the hacker group Anonymous, which has said it would release personal information about the police officer involved and on Thursday identified him by name in a Twitter post.
Edward Magee, a spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor’s office, which is investigating the shooting, said the name posted online was incorrect.
“We can’t let anonymous groups or even public groups pressure us into doing anything we don’t think we should do,” Magee said.
In Ferguson, protesters have gathered every night since Brown was fatally shot on Saturday in the mostly black suburb of St. Louis during what authorities said was a struggle over a gun in a police car. Some witnesses say he was outside the car with his hands up.
Police in Ferguson fired tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs on Wednesday night to disperse some 350 protesters, the fourth night of racially charged demonstrations.
Protesters have said the lack of transparency by police investigating the incident — including the refusal to release the officer’s name — have added to already high tensions.
Magee said the officer’s name will be made public if he is charged. Even if he is not arrested, his name will be released after the investigation because of the high public interest, Magee added. The officer has been placed on administrative leave.
Anonymous, which has also called for nationwide protests over the situation in Ferguson, said it would release the officer’s photo and other “damaging information” about him later Thursday.
Police have deployed camouflage-clad officers in body armor, including one manning a rifle on a tripod atop an armored car, to Ferguson.
Dozens of protesters have been arrested since Saturday, and on Wednesday night a St. Louis alderman and two journalists were among those arrested.
“I’ve had enough of being pushed around because of the color of my skin. I’m sick of this police brutality,” said one protester, who gave only his first name, Terrell, 18. “I’m going to keep coming back here night after night until we get justice.”
National figures from President Barack Obama to civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton have called for a peaceful response to the shooting.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said in a series of Twitter messages he would visit the area on Thursday, and urged “law enforcement to respect rights of residents (and) press” with the hopes that the “ongoing crisis” does not compound Saturday’s “tragedy.”
“Situation in Ferguson does not represent who we are. Must keep the peace, while safeguarding rights of citizens and the press,” Nixon wrote.
Police Chief Thomas Jackson told reporters his priority was improving race relations in Ferguson, which has seen a stark demographic shift in recent decades, going from mostly white to mostly black. About two-thirds of the town’s 21,000-strong population are black. On a police force of 53, three officers are black.
“This is an opportunity to fix what’s wrong,” he said at a news conference on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Carey Gillam in Kansas City)