(Bloomberg) — A man charged with assault in the shooting
of two police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, during a protest
allegedly told investigators he was firing at someone else in a
separate dispute.

Jeffrey Williams, 20, had been part of the demonstration
outside Ferguson police headquarters before two officers were
wounded by shots fired from across the street, St. Louis County
Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Sunday at a press
conference. Williams was arrested Saturday night.

“This arrest sends a clear message that acts of violence
against our law enforcement personnel will never be tolerated,”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. Federal
investigators worked with St. Louis County police to review
ballistics evidence to help identify the suspect, Holder said.

Protests flared anew in Ferguson after the U.S. Justice
Department March 4 said the city’s police and municipal court
routinely violated the civil rights of blacks, who comprise a
majority of its 21,000 residents.

McCulloch said Williams conceded he was the shooter and
told police he’d been involved in a dispute separate from the
demonstration.

“Essentially what we’ve charged him with is firing
shots,” McCulloch said. “It’s possible at this point that he
was firing shots at someone other than the police but struck the
police officers.”

Law enforcement officials weren’t sure they “completely
buy that part” of the defendant’s account, McCulloch said.

Assault Charges

Williams faces two counts of criminal assault, each
punishable by as long as life in prison, McCulloch said.
Williams, who is from the Ferguson area, is also charged with
firing a gun from a motor vehicle and three counts of “armed
criminal action.” Each of those crimes are felonies.

The weapon used was a handgun that matched bullet shell
casings recovered from the shooting scene, McCulloch said.
Williams is being held on a $300,000 cash bond and the
investigation is ongoing, the prosecutor said.

The officer from nearby Webster Groves and another from St.
Louis County were shot as the stood in front of the police
building, which has been the target of protests since an unarmed
black teenager was killed by a Ferguson officer in August.

Officers Wounded

While deployed during a nighttime protest on March 11, one
officer was shot in the cheek and the other in the shoulder.
Both were taken to a hospital for treatment and later released.
They’d been standing in a line of about 25 officers when the
shots were fired about midnight that evening, St. Louis County
Police Chief Jon Belmar said in a March 12 news conference.

McCulloch presided over a grand jury that declined to
indict the officer in the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown.

The death of Brown, 18, by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson
in a street confrontation was one of a spate of killings of
black men by white police officers last year, inciting
demonstrations across the U.S.

The incidents included the choke-hold death of Eric Garner
by a New York City officer on Staten Island and the shooting by
a Cleveland officer of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was holding a
toy gun. A grand jury also declined to indict the New York
police officer, Daniel Pantaleo.

Report, Resignations

The Justice Department’s report prompted the Missouri
Supreme Court to appoint appellate judge Roy Richter to preside
over all cases in the city’s court and to enact reforms.
Ferguson municipal court Judge Ronald Brockmeyer resigned.

His resignation was followed by city manager John Shaw’s
and an announcement that Police Chief Thomas Jackson would step
down on March 19. Mayor James Knowles vowed to remain in office.

Protesters on March 11 chanted they wanted the mayor gone
too.

“Not just Jackson, we want Knowles,” they yelled.

Responsibility for handling security at continuing protests
in Ferguson was turned over to the St. Louis County police force
and Missouri State Highway Patrol after the shooting.

Brown’s parents condemned the shooting of the officers and
called for peace in a March 12 statement issued by their
lawyers.

“We reject any kind of violence directed toward members of
law enforcement,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. said
in the statement. “It cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Ed Magee, a spokesman for McCulloch, didn’t immediately
respond to phone and e-mail messages seeking information on
whether Williams had an attorney.

At the time of his arrest, Williams was on probation in St.
Louis County for receipt of stolen property, McCulloch said. A
warrant may have been issued for his arrest for failure to
contact his probation officers.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Andrew Harris in federal court in Chicago at
aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Michael Hytha at
mhytha@bloomberg.net