In Ferguson, National Guard begins to pull back as tensions ease

Hundreds of National Guardsmen are withdrawing from Ferguson, Mo.

Hundreds of National Guardsmen have begun to withdraw from St. Louis and Ferguson, Mo., as tensions have begun to ease in the embattled suburb, which was the site of mass looting and riotous behavior after a grand jury declined to indict a police officer in the August killing of an unarmed 18-year-old.

As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, there were 1,268 guardsmen stationed in St. Louis County, down from an estimate of more than 2,000 last week, according to a statement issued by Gov. Jay Nixon.

“The men and women of the Missouri National Guard have served the people of the region admirably, and I greatly appreciate their professionalism, bravery and dedication,” Nixon said in his statement. “As the Guard begins to scale back its operations, the Missouri State Highway Patrol will continue to work closely with local law enforcement agencies to protect lives and property in Ferguson and across the St. Louis region."

The image of guardsmen riding in Humvees and patrolling the outsides of businesses with rifles had become commonplace in the days that followed a grand jury's decision last week not to indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. The guardsmen, often carrying riot shields and sporting fatigues, were also a constant presence at the Ferguson Police Department's headquarters, the scene of many of the clashes between protesters and police last week.

Nixon declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis suburb in November, and on Monday he called for a special legislative session in the hopes of allocating additional state funds for the work of guardsmen and Highway Patrol officers in the region. However, Nixon later said a special session was not needed because statutes already permit him to reallocate that money.

More than 100 people were arrested in Ferguson and St. Louis in the days after the grand jury decision, though protests tailed off leading up to Thanksgiving. After two days of clashes along West Florissant Avenue and at Ferguson City Hall, demonstrations remained largely peaceful through the holiday, though 15 people were arrested during demonstrations outside police headquarters Friday night.

While public tension has largely diminished, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson did say police may investigate Brown's stepfather for several incendiary comments he made in the moments following the grand jury decision.

Louis Head was filmed screaming "burn this (expletive) down" and made other similar remarks in the moments that followed the announcement that Wilson would not be charged in Brown's death. 

Jackson, speaking to Fox News on Monday, said the department is "pursuing those comments" but did not elaborate on what, if any, charges Head could face.

Times staff writer Kurtis Lee contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times


1:53 p.m. This post updated with information about a possible investigation into comments made by Michael Brown's stepfather in the aftermath of the grand jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson.

This post published at 1:25 p.m.