A public hearing held Wednesday evening to discuss the creation of a civilian oversight board to monitor St. Louis police turned physical amid shouting as a police officer spoke in opposition to the initiative.
Tension in the St. Louis area between law enforcement officials and the communities they police has mounted since Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson's fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August. In the shooting's aftermath, a committee of local aldermen proposed creating a civilian oversight board that would review the public's complaints about police abuse and have access to internal police investigations.
The bill is intended to provide the greater police accountability that St. Louis residents have been demanding for months — but police advocates argue that it violates an officer's right to due process.
Wednesday night's meeting proceeded smoothly until officers started testifying against the bill — drawing vocal criticism from the crowd.
That's when State Rep. Jeff Roorda, who works as the St. Louis Police Officers Association's business manager — and who was sporting an "I am Darren Wilson" wristband — shouted at Alderman Terry Kennedy, who chaired the committee, to get the situation under control.
Roorda's exchange with Kennedy ignited the crowd even further. Roorda appeared to grab and shove a woman out of his way in the scuffle that followed, prompting a reaction from others in the audience.
Video by Bassem Masri
"I was literally just trying to leave the meeting and I got caught in whatever Roorda and Kennedy had going on in their exchange," Cachet Currie, the woman in the video, told local TV station KMOV. "Roorda just jumped out into the aisle, pushed me over, and tried to get to Kennedy. I'm like, 'Wait a minute, don't push me.' "
The commotion lasted about 15 minutes, and Kennedy cut the meeting short.
"This isn't easy," he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There will be disagreements. These things have simmered for a long time."
Alderman Joe Vaccaro told the paper that the incident reflected the city's "deep divisions."
"We spent the night hearing from anti-police radicals," Roorda remarked. "We hear from two police officers and he [Kennedy] lets the place go wild."
He told the KMOV that the meeting was a "sham," and said that he had exercised his First Amendment rights in wearing the controversial wristband.
No one was hurt or arrested in the commotion. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department released statement afterward that said: "A police report with multiple complainants has been filed relative to the incident that occurred during last night's public hearing at City Hall. There is an ongoing investigation to determine what occurred. "
Protesters called on Roorda to be arrested for "assaulting" the woman in the video.