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Officer suspended for pointing semi-automatic rifle at 'peaceful' protester

By Greg Botelho | 8/21/2014, 9:37 a.m.
A Missouri police officer "relieved of duty" after pointing rifle, threatening protester's life. Police union lawyer: Incident is "unfortunate," officers ...
Demonstrations in Ferguson, MO Tuesday, August 20, 2014. CNN/Wes Little

Editor's note: Warning: This story contains graphic language

(CNN) -- An officer who pointed a semi-automatic assault rifle at a Ferguson, Missouri, protester and threatened to kill him -- a tense episode caught on video and posted online -- is off the job, at least for now.

The St. Louis County Police Department announced Wednesday that a police officer from St. Ann, Missouri, "has been relieved of duty and suspended indefinitely" over the incident.

Police threatening to kill a citizen takes on special significance given what protesters are loudly, passionately demanding: charges against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the August 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teen.

The county police department laid out its version of the more recent incident, which happened shortly before midnight Tuesday. This account jibed with video later posted to YouTube.

In the video, an officer can be seen walking around with his assault rifle raised, then pointing it in the direction of protesters.

"I'm going to f--king kill you," he says. "Get back. Get back."

The St. Louis County Police described the protester involved in what it deemed "a verbal exchange" to be "peaceful."

Another man in the crowd then says out loud, "Did you threaten to kill him?"

The officer is asked for his name, to which he responds: "Go f--k yourself."

Protesters proceed to mock the officer before he's led away by another member of law enforcement.

A CNN crew also saw the officer point his weapon at those around him as he cursed, shouted and threatened people by saying he'd kill them unless they stayed away.

The St. Louis County Police said that one of its sergeants "walked over and immediately took action, forcing the officer to lower the weapon and escorting him away from the area."

"The unified command strongly feel these actions are inappropriate, and not indicative of the officers who have worked daily to keep the peace," the police department said.

The county police referred media to the St. Ann Police Department for updates on the unnamed suspended officer's status. Members of the law enforcement force charged with maintaining security have come from many communities, including St. Ann, which is just west of Ferguson.

This is not the first time unarmed protesters in Ferguson have accused police of pointing guns at them. CNN staffers have seen some such incidents first-hand that weren't caught on tape.

Antonio French, a St. Louis city alderman who has been a fixture at the demonstrations, said he is not surprised by the video given what he's seen the past two weeks. What is different -- in a good way, from his perspective -- is that authorities responded promptly in disciplining one of their own.

"In this case, we did see something happen to that officer immediately," French told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "And that sends a strong message that at least the folks at the top are getting it."

Neil Bruntrager -- general counsel for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, though he doesn't represent this specific accused officer -- conceded in an appearance on CNN that these kinds of things are probably happening in Ferguson, though he characterized them as "isolated incidents."