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Fatal shooting of armed suspect by Oakland police spurs protests

The fatal shooting of an armed suspect by Oakland police officers spurred street protests and outrage on social media by activists who likened it to other controversial shootings over the last year.

Police said the 24-year-old man was shot dead Wednesday afternoon by officers who gave chase after noting that he was driving a car associated with an armed robbery late last month. He led authorities on an eight-mile pursuit, collided with another vehicle, then attempted a carjacking.

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The suspect, whose identity has not been released, was carrying a loaded 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun when he was shot during a foot pursuit, police said. The gun, which he did not fire, had been reported stolen, they said.

The suspect was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Officer Johnna Watson, a police spokeswoman, said Thursday afternoon that a preliminary autopsy report determined that "the bullets entered the front of the man's body." The cause of death is listed as gunshot wounds.

She said police cannot release the suspect's name until the coroner makes a positive identification and notifies relatives. A deputy with the coroner's division of the Sheriff's Department confirmed that but said police had also placed a "security hold" on the release of information to the media.

Dozens of protesters began gathering at the shooting scene about 7 p.m. Wednesday, marching through downtown, setting some small trash-can fires and breaking a window at a Starbucks.

A small group then returned to the scene at the Interstate 980 offramp where the suspect had crashed and fled the vehicle. ABC7 reported that they marched onto the freeway shortly after 10 p.m., but police cleared them soon after and formed a line to prevent them from re-entering.

No information on whether arrests were made was immediately available Thursday.

Marchers chanted the name Joe Bart, whom they identified as the dead man. Some at the protest contended that he had stopped running and said "OK, OK, OK" in an indication of surrender before he was shot. Others suggested he had tripped and was on the ground when shot.

None of those accounts has been verified.

Across the country, people have tweeted using the #joebart hashtag.

One, which simply said, "The Oakland police killed #joebart today," was retweeted more than a thousand times.

Another said: "All eyes on Oakland. "Ok, Ok, Ok" ~~ Last Words Of #JoeBart before being killed by OPD."

The Oakland Police Department's Homicide Section and Internal Affairs Division are investigating, and the Alameda County district attorney's office is conducting a separate probe.

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The officers who fired their weapons had one, six and seven years on the force, police said. Their names were not released.

Use of force by police officers was once relatively common in Oakland, where a federal court imposed a settlement agreement more than a decade ago. However, the department was among the earliest to employ body cameras and has seen a decrease in such incidents.

In 2009, the year before the cameras made by VieVu were phased in, 2,186 use-of-force incidents were reported. That dropped to just under 500 by the end of 2013, when all patrol officers were using them, according to the most recent department statistics.

"Body-worn cameras are particularly valuable when they capture officers' actions and community interactions as they occur," a Police Department statement released before the shooting said. "We believe that an engaged community that has trust in its police department will lead to a safer Oakland, and that the information provided by the body worn cameras can strengthen that trust."

Watson said Thursday that the department would not release any body camera footage of the shooting "at this time."

The Oakland incident comes as tensions nationwide are heightened one year after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. But Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent at a Wednesday evening press briefing said sometimes the incidents are unavoidable.

After two years without a fatal officer-involved shooting, there have been three in Oakland since June. The first involved an altercation with an armed man who was initially spotted passed out in his car with a loaded weapon.

The second, on Aug. 3, took place when officers approached a home to question a suspect in a reported sexual assault and he emerged firing a semiautomatic rifle, discharging more than 30 rounds and seriously wounding a veteran sergeant who has since undergone at least  two surgeries.

Sgt. Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Assn., expressed frustration Thursday at the protests.

"This guy in broad daylight wielding a pistol is confronted by officers, and has ample opportunity to give himself up. What are they supposed to do?" he asked. "He has no compunction to threaten citizens and engage police officers. My view is he made a decision."

Donelan said the city "is very fortunate that after yesterday I don't have a number of wounded or dead citizens or wounded or dead police officers because of the rampage this guy went on."

Twitter: @leeromney

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