A Ferguson, Mo., public relations officer has been placed on unpaid leave and may face additional disciplinary action after giving an interview to The Washington Post in which he described the memorial for Michael Brown as a “pile of trash.” The memorial, made up of stuffed animals, flowers and other mementos, had sprung up in the street near the apartment complex where Brown, 18, was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer.
After the memorial for Brown was damaged by a car on Dec. 25, The Washington Post contacted police spokesman Officer Timothy Zoll. He responded that no crime had been reported regarding the destruction of the memorial and expressed surprise that The Washington Post was contacting him over “a pile of trash in the middle of the street.” He offered that the department would review any video of the incident that might appear.
Radio station KMOX in St. Louis has reported that one of their reporters spoke with Zoll, who claimed that he had been misquoted. Zoll explained that what he had said to the reporter was that the memorial could have been ruined by an out-of-town driver who thought it was a pile of trash.
A statement by Ferguson city officials on Saturday night said that during an interview with police investigators, Zoll admitted making the remarks as published. He also confessed to having lied to his superior officers regarding what he said during his interview with The Washington Post.
Brown, who was unarmed, was shot by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The incident sparked protests across the U.S. immediately after the shooting which continued during and after the grand jury, who ultimately decided not to charge Wilson in the shooting, convened. The protests highlighted a sharp divide among Americans who believed Wilson was justified in shooting Brown and those who feel as though police are too quick to shoot African-Americans when incidents arise.
Ferguson’s police force is mostly white, while the city itself is mainly African-American, and nowhere has the tension been more intense. Thomas Jackson, police chief of Ferguson, perhaps to bolster claims that city officials are committed to bridge the racial divide in the city, made it clear that even after Zoll had denied making the statement to the newspaper, police continued to investigate it. A statement released by the city denounced Zoll’s description of the memorial as “trash” and emphasized that it does not reflect the sentiments of the city as a whole.
The recent destruction, along with an incident in September in which candles are believed to have sparked a fire which burned the memorial and which was seen as suspicious by many, has prompted city officials to vow to move the memorial to a safer location. Immediately after the car ran over the memorial, a call went out via social media to residents of Ferguson asking people to come together to help restore it. The collection of mementos was rebuilt and cleaned soon after being damaged by what some believe was an intentional act by the driver of the car.
There is no number listed in public records for Zoll. Despite efforts on Sunday to reach him, The Associated Press was unable to do so.
By Jennifer Pfalz