(Reuters) – The spokesman for the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, has been suspended without pay after admitting he referred to a roadside memorial to an unarmed teenager killed by police as a “pile of trash,” the city announced over the weekend.
After insisting he had been misquoted, Officer Timothy Zoll later admitted he made the remark to a Washington Post reporter who called him on Friday about reports that a motorist had driven over the flowers and signs left in tribute to 18-year-old Michael Brown.
“I don’t know that a crime has occurred,” Zoll was quoted as saying in the Post’s report on Friday. “But a pile of trash in the middle of the street? The Washington Post is making a call over this?”
The City of Ferguson said in a statement on Saturday that Zoll confessed he had misled his bosses when he initially denied making the remarks, and that Zoll was immediately put on unpaid leave while unspecified “disciplinary proceedings” begin.
“The City of Ferguson wants to emphasize that negative remarks about the Michael Brown memorial do not reflect the feelings of the Ferguson Police Department,” the statement said, “and are in direct contradiction to the efforts of City officials to relocate the memorial to a more secure location.”
Residents have since restored the memorial, according to local media reports, which marks the spot where Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown, who was unarmed, in an encounter in the street in August, the circumstances of which have been fiercely disputed.
Wilson is white and Brown was black, and Brown’s death and a grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson have prompted waves of rallies across the United States by protesters who accuse American police forces of being disproportionately hostile toward black citizens.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)