Many in Ferguson criticize nighttime grand jury announcement

Many say it was a bad move to announce the grand jury decision in Ferguson at night

St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch's decision to wait until nightfall to announce the results of a grand jury investigation into Michael Brown's death was criticized Tuesday by law enforcement experts and Ferguson activists, who said the move put police at a tactical disadvantage and offered agitators the cover of darkness.

“Of all the events and all that happened, the single event I am most hard-pressed to explain is why in the world it was announced at the time it was," said Wayne Fisher, a professor with the Police Institute at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J., and a former New Jersey assistant state attorney general. "Announcing it in daylight would have given a tactical advantage to law enforcement officers when it came to dealing with whatever took place. Unless there was some reason I’m not aware of, I can’t think of any valid reason why the announcement was made at 8 p.m."

McCulloch revealed the decision of the grand jury, which adjourned about noon Monday, at 8 p.m. local time. After weeks of proceedings in a tense city, the jury decided not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who killed Brown.  

Michael T. McPhearson, a retired U.S. Army captain who serves as the co-chair of the Don't Shoot Coalition in St. Louis County, said the days-long buildup and speculation about the grand jury announcement was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

McPhearson contends that police knew the pattern of rebellious behavior in the streets of Ferguson that followed the Aug. 9 shooting: typically peaceful daytime protests followed by chaotic nights of tear gas and vandalism--a pattern that would probably be repeated after the grand jury announcement. 

McCulloch has not explained the timing of the announcement.

During a news conference about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald Johnson bemoaned the lack of clergy present among the Ferguson protesters after the announcement. Those from the religious community helped calm the August demonstrations, Johnson said, but their voice was drowned out during Monday night's destruction.

McPhearson said it was unlikely that pastors and activists could have prevented the widespread violence; they really never had a chance to calm protesters, he said. 

"If you think that the police need time to get ready, then certainly community leaders need time to get ready," he said. "If you’re going to have a chance to have a positive outcome, then you can’t rely only on law enforcement, because law enforcement got us into this situation.”

In assessing the tactical response Monday night and Tuesday morning, police officials said they believed a curfew would have done little to curb the violence. St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said that first responders’ inability to block access to West Florissant Avenue, focus of the violence, probably gave agitators more of a chance to cause damage along the embattled street. Tuesday night, the street was locked down and police were treating it like a crime scene.

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