Witness describes shooting near Mardi Gras events in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — A suburban St. Louis man was walking to his car after the city's annual Mardi Gras parade when he heard a pop that sounded like a firecracker Saturday and saw dozens of people running in all directions.

Peter George, 56, of Brentwood, said that's when he saw two St. Louis police officers pull up in a golf cart, shout at a man wielding a gun and then start shooting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/Y3hLcQ) reported.

Otis Roberson, 32, of St. Louis, was killed after turning his handgun in the direction of the uniformed officers, who were working part-time jobs providing security for the festival, police said.

"I saw both (officers) trying to frantically get their guns out and unstrap their holsters," George said. "I could hear yelling, and all of a sudden I hear five, six, seven shots right in front of me. I never saw the guy until his head and shoulders came out from behind a car when he went down."

The officers responded to a report of gunfire around 2:30 p.m. just south of the main Mardi Gras events. George said the encounter lasted no longer than 90 seconds, and the officers were visibly shaken afterward.

"The police seemed pretty upset," he said. "You could tell by their reactions it was not a happy experience for them."

Roberson was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

At a news conference Saturday night, St. Louis Police Lt. Col. Lawrence O'Toole said the officers had responded heroically.

He said three spent rounds from Roberson's revolver were found, and that many people were potentially in danger "if you are firing a gun in Soulard on Mardi Gras.

"This is not a place to have weapons," he added.

Police Chief Sam Dotson said the officers acted within the guidelines of the department's firearms policy.

One of the officers involved in the shooting is 51 years old and has been with the department for 22 years, while the other is 56 and has been on the force for 33 years. They were among 30 part-time officers employed by Mardi Gras Inc. to work security, in addition to hundreds of police from St. Louis and other jurisdictions who also work the all-day street party.

City police spokesman Dave Marzullo said officers arrested 80 people during the Mardi Gras celebration Saturday, including 76 for underage drinking.

George said the shooting will not prevent him from attending next year's Mardi Gras events.

"I was never scared, but I was just shocked that I had just seen that, with as many shots and as much blood as there was," he said. "At that time of day in that part of Soulard in the middle of Mardi Gras, that was the last thing I thought I was going to see."