Off-Duty Cop Shot in 'Friendly Fire' Incident But Lawyer Says Race Played a Role

Police officer mistakenly shoots an off-duty cop in St. Louis
A police officer stands by a patrol vehicle after a gunman opened fire inside a United Parcel Service facility in San Francisco on June 14. In Missouri, a police officer shot a fellow off-duty cop on June 22. Stephen Lam/REUTERS

A cop-on-cop shooting in St. Louis is being described as a "friendly fire" incident by police but the lawyer for the wounded officer suggests his client's race may be to blame.

A 38-year-old, black off-duty cop was shot by a white officer Wednesday after he reportedly offered to assist police who were involved in a chase, Fox News reported. Neither of the officers' names have been released.

Officers came under fire after stopping a vehicle with spike strips that was stolen by three teens, police said. The off-duty cop, who lived in the area where the shooting took place, reportedly heard the commotion outside and left his home to assist. He was not wearing his uniform at the time but he did have his service weapon.

When the off-duty cop approached, he was initially confronted by two uniformed officers who ordered him to the ground. However, shortly after their exchange, both of the uniformed officers recognized the officer and instructed him to walk toward them, according to a St. Louis Police Department report of the incident. Then a third uniformed officer approached and fired rounds at the off-duty cop. That officer, a 36-year-old who has been on the force for eight years, did not recognize the man when he mistakenly shot the off-duty cop, an 11-year veteran of the force. The officer is listed as in good condition.

The off-duty cop's lawyer, Rufus J. Tate Jr., told local media outlets that the altercation was just another example of officers perceiving black men as threats.

“In the police report, you have so far, there is no description of threat he received. So we have a real problem with that. But this has been a national discussion for the past two years. There is this perception that a black man is automatically feared," Tate said.

The department’s summary of the incident said the uniformed officer who shot at his counterpart feared for his safety when he did not immediately recognize the off-duty cop, despite the fact that the officer had already identified himself and was complying with the two other officers at the scene during the time of the shooting.

"This is the first time that we are aware, that a black professional, in law enforcement, himself being shot and treated as an ordinary black guy on the street. This is a real problem," Tate said.

Although the police report detailed the incident as mere “friendly fire”—a military term used to describe when a non-enemy is mistakenly targeted as hostile or deemed as a threat due to misinformation or inaccuracy—the uniformed officer and six other officers involved were placed on administrative leave, according to St. Louis Today.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a 17-year-old boy was killed by police Friday by officers who were shooting at a dog. The Los Angeles Times reported the teen suffered a gunshot wound to the chest after a bullet that was aimed at a pit bull ricocheted off the ground and struck him. The dog was reportedly charging after police officers when they fired several rounds. Investigators told local news outlets that the officers didn’t see the teen in the darkness where they were firing.