St. Louis police deny targeting media with Ferguson no-fly zone

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar speaks during a news conference on Nov. 3, 2014, in Clayton, Mo.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar speaks during a news conference on Nov. 3, 2014, in Clayton, Mo.

On Monday, St. Louis police chief Jon Belmar denied allegations that his office had arranged a no-fly zone over the Ferguson, Mo. in order to restrict the media's ability to view local protests from a bird's eye view. Instead, he said the no-fly policy had been instituted because of fears over gunfire.

"Trust me, it is not an easy job for these pilots to be out there," said Belmar during a Monday evening press conference. "They have no reason to preclude anyone from air space other than safety."

The no-fly zone hung over Ferguson for nearly two weeks in August, close to the height of the protests that rocked the city after the shooting death of local teen Michael Brown. Brown was killed by a local police officer on August 9 and the controversy surrounding his death triggered weeks of racially charged protests and, in some cases, an aggressive police response. This Sunday, the Associated Press reported that members of the Federal Aviation Administration had been recorded saying that St. Louis County Police requested a no-fly zone in order "to keep the media out."

Attorney General Eric Holder reacted to the Associated Press report later that day.

“Transparency I think is always a good thing,” said Holder. “The American people need to understand … what was happening or what is happening in Ferguson. Anything that would artificially inhibit the ability of news gatherers to do what they do, I think, is something that needs to be avoided.”

But Belmar insisted that safety was the sole motive behind the no-fly zone, citing reports to his office that a helicopter had been attacked by gunfire. Some of the helicopters in the air also had lasers pointed at them, he said. Some members of the media reportedly got permission to fly above the no-fly zone area at what police deemed to be a safe altitude.

"We were fortunate not to have a loss of life," said Belmar.