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Tense meeting on St. Louis police reforms devolves into chaos, name-calling

St. Louis meeting over police reforms erupts in a scuffle between police union official and protesters

In a sign of lingering tensions in the Ferguson area, St. Louis police are investigating a scuffle that broke out between demonstrators and a prominent police union official during a meeting to discuss starting a police review board.

The incident, which broke out in full sight of news cameras and city aldermen, was just the latest eruption over policing and race in the area since the August police shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

There were no injuries or arrests reported, but plenty of raw feelings.

The creation of a police oversight board in the city of St. Louis has drawn greater interest since Brown’s death and during the months of protest over policing that followed.

Wednesday night’s scuffle broke out as the city’s public safety committee was hearing public comment over a proposal to create such a board, which would investigate claims of police wrongdoing.

The crowd grew agitated as police officers stepped to a lectern to discuss their opposition to the proposal, leading a top St. Louis Police Officers Assn. official, Jeff Roorda, to stand and call out, “Come on, Mr. Chairman, how about some order here, huh?” according to video footage of the scene.

“Excuse me, first of all, you do not tell me my function,” responded the committee’s chairman, Alderman Terry Kennedy, a longtime proponent of the oversight board proposal, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Partially clear livestream footage then showed Roorda — who was wearing a bracelet that said “I am Darren Wilson” — appearing to bump into a woman standing in an aisle and grab her arm.

The meeting then devolved into chaos as the crowd began shouting and men moved to separate Roorda from the crowd. Some of the onlookers called him a “bigot” and a “white supremacist.”

“Roorda just jumped out into the aisle, pushed me over, and tried to get to [Alderman] Kennedy,” Cachet Currie, who said she was the woman who was pushed, told KMOV-TV. “I'm like, 'Wait a minute, don't push me.' Then he started going off on me, pushing me. Some man grabbed me by the hair, just started trying to throw punches at me.”

Some onlookers accused Roorda of shoving the woman, which Roorda denied to local media after the meeting dissolved.

“As I tried to exit the aisle I was in, the woman was standing in the way,” Roorda told KMOV-TV. “She began elbowing me and pushing, trying to keep me from getting out. As I tried to exit, she continued to do that.”

Roorda, a former state representative and a business manager for the police association, as well as its most visible public face during the Ferguson unrest, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.

A prominent alderman who has been sympathetic with Ferguson demonstrators and a sponsor of the review-board measure condemned Roorda after the meeting.

“The behavior of union official Jeff Roorda tonight was deplorable, and disrespectful to the fine men and women he is supposed to represent,” St. Louis City Alderman Antonio French, who spent an extensive amount of time with demonstrators in Ferguson during the unrest, tweeted after the meeting.

In a phone interview with The Times on Thursday, French called the confrontation "another example and a reminder of how divided our community remains right now. ... It shows how easily these disagreements can turn into larger confrontations."

French added, "People should not allow themselves to become provoked" and reiterated that he thought Roorda's behavior was "childish."

A St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department spokeswoman told the Los Angeles Times that the department had received complaints from multiple people about the “altercation” and that it was investigating. The case will then be turned over to the city circuit attorney’s office to decide whether any charges will be filed.

matt.pearce@latimes.com

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