Mike Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by police near St. Louis on Saturday, spurring a number of protests.
Demonstrators expressed their outrage over the death of Brown, 18, who was shot after an altercation with a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri; witnesses say Brown had his hands in the air and was unarmed. CNN reports the protests turned violent late Sunday, with police responding in riot gear.
What are the allegations surrounding Brown's death, and what liability could the protesters potentially face for violence?
Another Unarmed Teen Killed
With only a year between Brown's death and the acquittal of the man who killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, it is easy to see how tensions are running high. According to CNN, Jon Belmar, chief of the St. Louis County Police Department, told reporters on Sunday that Brown was shot after he physically assaulted a police officer and struggled over the officer's weapon.
Although the circumstances surrounding Brown's death remain contested, he is not the first teen to meet his end as the result of alleged police misconduct. Andy Lopez, 13, was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy in California last fall, after officers encountered the boy carrying what turned out to be a toy gun. The deputy avoided criminal charges, but Lopez's parents have named him in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Use of Lethal Force
Police are often legally authorized to open fire when an officer is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, or when a fleeing felon may present imminent danger if he or she escapes.
In the case of the officer who shot Mike Brown, allegations of a struggle are being used to justify the shooting in response to imminent danger of death to the officer. This justification is similar to the "Stand Your Ground" cases in which shooters claim to have feared for their lives before shooting their victims. You may recall another unarmed teenager, 17-year-old Jordan Davis, met his end in 2012 at the hands of a Florida man who shot Davis and his friends because he said he felt threatened by them.
Potential Protest Liability
Although protesting Brown's death may be perfectly lawful, at least one St. Louis-area store was looted as riots broke out following Sunday's protests, reports ABC News. Those involved in the vandalism and looting that night could face criminal charges if identified by police, although it's unclear if any arrests have yet been made.
As the investigation into Mike Brown's death continues, figuring out exactly what happened may be difficult. CNN reports that police cruisers in Ferguson are not equipped with dashcams.