Oct 24 (Reuters) – Police in Ferguson, Missouri, committed human rights abuses as they sought to quell mostly peaceful protests that erupted after an officer killed an unarmed black teenager, an international human rights organization said in a report released on Friday.
The Amnesty International report said law enforcement officers should be investigated by U.S. authorities for the abuses, which occurred during weeks of racially charged protests that erupted after white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, 18, on Aug. 9.
The use by law enforcement of rubber bullets, tear gas and heavy military equipment and restrictions placed on peaceful protesters all violated international standards, the group said.
Amnesty said it sent a delegation to Ferguson from Aug. 14-22 to monitor the situation.
When asked about the allegations, Brian Schellman, a spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department, which helped oversee law enforcement operations in Ferguson, said police “had one mission, and that was the preservation of life.”
The report also criticizes a Missouri law that the group said may be unconstitutional because it allows police to use deadly force against someone even if there is no imminent threat of harm.
The report calls on state lawmakers to make Missouri law comply with international standards making lethal force by police a last resort, said Rachel Ward, director of research at Amnesty International.
“Lethal force is only to be used to protect life when there is an immediate threat,” Ward said. “The Missouri statute goes far beyond that. It is of grave concern.”
Amnesty cited a Missouri statute that says a police officer may use deadly force “in effecting an arrest or in preventing an escape from custody” when that officer “reasonably believes that such use of deadly force is immediately necessary to effect the arrest and also reasonably believes that the person to be arrested … has committed or attempted to commit a felony.”
A grand jury in St. Louis County is weighing whether or not Wilson should be charged in Brown’s death. Wilson has not spoken publicly about the incident.
The Justice Department is investigating Brown’s killing and the Ferguson Police Department.
Witnesses and law enforcement officials have said Brown and Wilson got into an altercation after Wilson told Brown to stop walking down the middle of a street. Wilson shot Brown six times. Some witnesses have said Brown had his hands up in surrender when the last shots were fired.
“Michael Brown was unarmed and thus unlikely to have presented a serious threat to the life of the police officer,” the report said.