Ferguson looting video release is part of effort to identify suspects

St. Louis County police release video of looting that followed Ferguson grand jury decision

St. Louis County police released a dramatic video Tuesday that shows dozens of people smashing their way into a Ferguson, Mo., market on the night the city erupted in violence after a grand jury declined to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.

The five-minute clip shows a swarm of people -- many wearing hooded sweatshirts that obstruct their faces -- pull apart boards meant to protect Dellwood Market and force their way inside. 

The store is on West Florissant Avenue, the Ferguson street that became a hot spot for looting, violence and arson on the night of the grand jury announcement. The street is also adjacent to the Canfield Green apartments, where the unarmed Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation Aug. 9.

The release of the video is part of a larger initiative to identify suspects in the rampant looting that followed the grand jury decision, according to Officer Shawn McGuire, a St. Louis County Police Department spokesman. Nearly 200 people were arrested in the days that followed the Nov. 24 grand jury announcement, but many were charged with unlawful assembly, not the various arsons and break-ins that plagued the city. 

Police released surveillance footage from two other businesses to local news organizations this month, but the Dellwood Market video was the first in a series that police plan to share on the Internet in coming months, he said.

McGuire said the local release of the earlier videos led to the identification of six suspects, but detectives have yet to make arrests in those cases. Police decided to post the videos this month because their attempts to identify the suspects were unsuccessful, McGuire said. 

The department now plans to release the videos on a weekly basis.

“We have so much surveillance video and pictures of suspects we don’t want to overwhelm anyone," he said.

The market was one of several buildings looted or burned on West Florissant Avenue after the grand jury announcement. Its parking lot later became a staging area for police officers and National Guardsmen. It was also the scene of a tense moment between police and civilians in which several officers aimed rifles at a car that pulled into the parking lot. The people in the car immediately raised their hands in surrender and were allowed to leave after a brief standoff, but the scene unnerved several witnesses that night.

McGuire acknowledged the video and accompanying screenshots of potential suspects were grainy at best, but he said police believe the images may still help bring potential witnesses forward.

“Every business that was affected by something along the lines of what happened in Ferguson, we’re going to release video if we have it,” he said.

Wayne Fisher, a professor of police policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey, said that despite the poor quality of the videos, people who know those caught on camera might be able to pick out names and faces.

“I think identifications can be made from some of these photos. Now as to whether this strategy yields any results, only time will tell," Fisher said. 

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