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The Ferguson, Missouri police spokesman who called the Michael Brown memorial "a pile of trash" has been placed on unpaid leave while disciplinary proceedings begin, the City of Ferguson said. The makeshift memorial is a collection of candles, flowers, notes and other mementos left at the site where a police officer killed the unarmed 18-year-old in an altercation on Aug. 9.
In announcing the suspension, the City of Ferguson said its public information officer was responding to an inquiry from a Washington Post reporter about damage to the memorial. The city's press release did not identify the officer who made the “pile of trash” comment, but the newspaper attributed the comment to Officer Tim Zoll.
The memorial, on the spot where the black teenager was shot by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Brown, appeared to have been run over with a car overnight Thursday.
By Friday morning, supporters who saw social media photos of the damaged memorial had gathered to repair it. They said the car had intentionally hit the memorial. When the Post asked police about the incident, Zoll said Friday that no crime had been reported and he did not specify whether there would be an investigation.
"I don't know that a crime has occurred," the newspaper quoted Zoll as saying. "But a pile of trash in the middle of the street? The Washington Post is making a call over this?"
Zoll couldn't be immediately be reached for comment. The city alleged that the spokesman had misled them about what he said in the interview, but he later acknowledged making the reported comments.
"The City of Ferguson wants to emphasize that negative remarks about the Michael Brown memorial do not reflect the feelings of the Ferguson Police Department and are in direct contradiction to the efforts of City officials to relocate the memorial to a more secure location," the city said in its news release.
It is not the first time the memorial has been damaged.
In September it was set on fire, prompting hundreds of local supporters to take to the streets in protest. Police said the fire could have been started accidently as the memorial contained candles, but area residents said they had smelled gasoline and believed the fire was intentional.
Months after Brown's death, residents and others remain outraged over the way his body lay in the street for more than four hours while police investigated the shooting.
Local protests over the killing soon spread across the United States, with tens of thousands protesting in cities including New York, Los Angeles and Seattle. Activists said discriminatory policing and police brutality led to Brown's death, and a series of other killings of unarmed black men since Ferguson has elevated the topics of racism in law enforcement to a national conversation.
Social justice groups across the country have joined together in a grassroots effort to combat police violence, staging "die-in" protests in public spaces or taking over busy highways in an effort to spread awareness of police brutality and the role of race in interactions with law enforcement.
In late November, a grand jury decision not to indict Wilson further fueled widespread contentions that there are serious flaws in the U.S. justice system. Critics complained that the majority-white jury and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch's close ties with the Ferguson police department precluded any chance of a fair decision.