Public Safety & Justice

National Guard Pulls Out of a Quieter Ferguson

by | August 22, 2014
 

By Kurtis Lee, Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Richard A. Serrano

As Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard to begin withdrawing from this St. Louis suburb Thursday, the persistent protests over the police killing of Michael Brown appeared smaller and much more subdued for the second night in a row.

About 75 demonstrators marched along West Florissant Avenue, at times posing for TV cameras and journalists. For a while, they were joined by State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is in charge of the police response, and by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

"We'll look forward to another nice and calm night of protests," Johnson said.

McCaskill joined the demonstrators for about half an hour. Asked whether the governor should remove St. Louis County Prosecuting Atty. Robert McCulloch from the case, as some have urged, she did not answer directly.

"He certainly has the power," said McCaskill, a former prosecutor herself. "I understand there's a perception out there that he (McCulloch) will not be fair. The governor has the power to remove him, and he should make a clear decision."

Nixon issued a somewhat ambiguous statement on the subject this week, but told MSNBC Thursday night that he would not remove McCulloch and appoint a special prosecutor.

Brown's Aug. 9 shooting by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson touched off nearly two weeks of clashes in this racially polarized St. Louis suburb. Wilson is white, and Brown was black.

The Guard was deployed in Ferguson on Monday, but its role was low-key, protecting the police command center and monitoring the protests. By Wednesday night, the number of demonstrators had dwindled and the intersection of Ferguson and West Florissant avenues, epicenter of the unrest, had calmed.

Nixon said in a statement that the situation had "greatly improved, with fewer incidents of outside instigators interfering with peaceful protesters, and fewer acts of violence."

Also Thursday, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. indicated that the Justice Department may broaden its review of Brown's death to investigate other allegations of police abuses in Ferguson.

"We have been working, I think, very diligently out there," said Holder, who spent Wednesday in Ferguson. "I got a briefing from the FBI agents and the prosecutors who are involved in this case, and I think significant progress has been made."

Asked if the Justice Department will broaden the Brown investigation to conduct a more thorough review of police practices in Ferguson, Holder said the department had "a number of tools" it can use in police misconduct cases.

"I'll just say at this point that we are keeping all of our options open," he said.

Other potential abuse cases in Ferguson include a September 2011 incident in which a mentally disturbed man died after being tased by officers, and another case in 2009, when a man was allegedly beaten by four officers, then charged with damaging government property because he bled on their uniforms.

Wilson had stopped Brown and a friend because they were walking down the middle of the street, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson has said. Police say Brown pushed Wilson back into his patrol car as he tried to get out of it, they struggled, and Wilson's gun went off inside the car. Then Brown ran, witnesses say, and Wilson got out and opened fire. Wilson reportedly has said Brown rushed at him. Jackson has said that Wilson's face was swollen from injuries suffered during the altercation with Brown.

Brown's parents told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Thursday that they had no confidence in any investigation into their son's death until they met with Holder on Wednesday.

"He made me feel like one day ... (investigative agencies) will regain my trust," said Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden.

Michael Brown Sr. said that if the family is to find justice, Wilson must go to jail.

"He has his life," Brown said. "Our son is gone."

Since Holder took office in 2009, the Justice Department has given high priority to cases alleging abuse against large police departments around the nation, with several departments placed under federal oversight.

Federal prosecutors have won 16 settlements or federal court orders and have an additional 33 cases underway.

Last month, the federal government placed a monitor over the Newark, N.J., Police Department, which has faced brutality and discrimination complaints.

Also Thursday, the St. Louis County Police Department released statistics on arrests the agency made from 11:30 p.m. Aug. 10 through 12:30 a.m. Thursday. In all, the department arrested 204 people, the vast majority from the greater St. Louis area. Nine live in Ferguson, and 34 are from out of state. The data did not include arrests by the Ferguson Police Department.

Back on the streets Thursday night, the atmosphere remained calm.

"It's peaceful, and that's one thing to be happy about," said Caitlin Fair, a graduate student from New Jersey, who came to Missouri on Monday to join the protests. "Justice still must be served."

Another protester, Mikael Ross of neighboring Jennings, Mo., said the demonstrations were not over.

"We'll keep showing up, even if it's just me," Ross said.

(Lee and Hennessy-Fiske reported from Ferguson, Serrano from Washington. Times staff writer James Queally in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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