KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An attorney for a union representing black St. Louis police officers said Monday that an off-duty black officer who was mistakenly shot by a white colleague is willing to wait for the findings of an investigation into whether race played a role.
Rufus Tate Jr., a lawyer for the Ethical Society of Police, told The Associated Press he would closely monitor the investigation of last week's shooting, which will likely take months. A police spokesman declined to discuss the matter.
Tate would not publicly identify the 38-year-old officer, saying the union isn't authorized to do so at this time. He said the injury to the officer's right arm are debilitating and will require "lots of therapy and good fortune."
Police said the white officer shot the black one because he didn't recognize him after a shootout between police and three black car theft suspects. Police said the black officer was off-duty when he heard the gunfire near his home and ran toward it with his service weapon to try to help. Tate said Monday the wounded officer had his badge in hand at all times.
Police said two on-duty officers ordered him to the ground but then recognized him and told him to stand up and walk toward them. As he was doing so, another officer — 36 years old and an eight-year veteran of the force — arrived and shot the off-duty officer "apparently not recognizing" him, police said.
Two of the three suspects, including one shot by police in an ankle, were arrested at the scene and have been charged. The third suspect remains at large.
During an interview last week with a St. Louis television station, Tate questioned the white officer's account to police that he shot the off-duty officer because he feared for his safety. "There is this perception that a black man is automatically feared," Tate told KTVI then.
Tate, a former prosecutor, appeared to soften that Monday, telling the AP that "emotions run high on both sides of the question."
"People say this was just an accident; others say it was racially motivated because it absolutely makes no sense," Tate said. "From the union's perspective, yes, there were concerns why the officer was shot under the circumstances. As to whether he was shot because he was black, that'll come out in the internal investigation, and we'll go from there.
"My job now is to make sure the (special unit probing the shooting) dots every 'I' and crosses every 't' in determining whether the physical evidence matches up with whatever the (shooting) officer's oral testimony is," he added.
Tate said any decision about a lawsuit over the shooting was premature, saying the wounded officer "is not particularly interested in that until we have a full investigation of the circumstances."
Until then, Tate said, the shooting should spur renewed evaluation of police training and other policy matters, including the adoption of psychological assessments of officers from their time in training academies and through their careers.
"Is there something that can be tested and identified that would give us a likelihood of officers pulling the trigger sooner?" he said. "I'm not saying that was the case here or not, but we have to have those assessments as a matter of routine."
A police spokeswoman, Schron Jackson, said Monday that the city's acting police chief was unavailable to discuss the matter and that "it would be premature to comment any further until the investigation has concluded."