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Police: Slain US teen was robbery suspect

Family says police attempt to demean character of Michael Brown by releasing video purporting to show him robbing store.

Last updated: 16 Aug 2014 10:21
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Brown's family has accused the police of trying to smear his character [AP]

The unarmed black teenager whose shooting death by a white police officer unleashed riots in a Missouri town was a suspect in a robbery just minutes before he was killed, according to police.

The allegation reignited fresh anger and frustration in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, with the 18-year-old student's family accusing police of attempting to demean his character amid an ongoing investigation.

What, if anything, the robbery allegation had to do with the fatal encounter was unclear. Hours after the reports' release, police said that Officer Darren Wilson, 28, had no idea Michael Brown was a robbery suspect when he shot him.

He simply wanted Brown to move from the road to the sidewalk, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said.

"He was walking down the middle of the street blocking traffic. That was it," Jackson said.

Racial tension

Brown's death stirred racial tensions in the majority black suburb with an overwhelmingly white police force and renewed a national debate about relations between law enforcement and African-Americans. It also called into question the use of heavy-handed policing in response to protesters.

The situation in Ferguson had calmed down after the governor ordered state troopers to take over from heavily armed and distrusted local police.

US shooting sparks debate on police diversity

However, anger flared again late on Friday night as police and about 200 protesters clashed at the same convenience store that Brown was accused of robbing.

Just before midnight, some people in what had been a large and rowdy but mostly well-behaved crowd broke into that same small store and began looting it, Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson told The Associated Press.

Some in the crowd began throwing rocks and other objects at police, Johnson said. One officer was injured.

Johnson said police backed off, hoping to ease the tension. No arrests were made.

Meanwhile, peaceful protesters yelled at the aggressors to stop what they were doing. About a dozen people eventually blocked off the front of the convenience store to help protect it.

'Devious' smear attempt

Incident reports from the Ferguson police department linked Brown to the theft of a $49 box of cigars from a convenience store, about 20 minutes before he was fatally shot by police in broad daylight on a nearby street last Saturday.

Police released surveillance footage showing a tall, muscular black man - in a T-shirt, khaki shorts and sandals, the same outfit Brown was wearing - grabbing a store clerk by the shirt and shoving him.

Through their lawyers, Brown's family said they were "beyond outraged" at what they called a "devious" attempt to smear the character of their son, who had no criminal record and was about to start vocational college.

"There is nothing based on the facts that have been placed before us that can justify the execution-style murder of their child by this police officer as he held his hands up, which is the universal sign of surrender," the lawyers added.

Police chief Jackson said he was releasing the incident report and video to the public because he had received "too many requests" from news media under freedom-of-information laws.

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