As this troubled town awaited the arrival of U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., local officials pleaded for calm Tuesday, protesters ignored requests to stay home, and schools remained closed for fear of the violence that has clutched Ferguson for nearly two weeks.
A heavy police presence assembled, closing down the main street, where repeated confrontations have riveted an international audience in the aftermath of the fatal Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer.
The Rev. Robert White of the Peace of Mind Church in St. Louis was among the older community leaders seeking to maintain the peace.
He urged protesters to “give Ferguson a break” and let businesses get back on their feet. “The police are out here to protect us,” he told CNN.
“If we could end tonight without one person getting shot, that would be a real blessing,” he said.
Missouri Atty. Gen. Chris Koster arrived to briefly address demonstrators. His spokeswoman issued a statement in his name voicing confidence in St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, despite calls for McCulloch to withdraw from the case.
“It is my understanding he has placed the matter in the hands of two highly experienced prosecutors, one of whom is African American,” Koster said in the statement. “I trust in their ability to diligently and fairly present the evidence in this case.”
Gov. Jay Nixon also said in a statement that he would not call on McCulloch to withdraw.
A St. Louis County grand jury was expected to begin hearing evidence Wednesday, the same day Holder plans to meet with community leaders, the governor, FBI investigators and federal prosecutors.
In an op-ed piece posted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Tuesday, Holder defended his decision to pursue a federal civil rights investigation contemporaneously with the local investigation.
He also warned rioters in this racially polarized city of 21,000 against looting and violence, calling them a small minority who only “seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice.” Holder cautioned that “violence cannot be condoned.”
Local officials said Tuesday that many of the 78 people arrested Monday night and into Tuesday morning were out-of-towners arrested for “refusal to disperse,” some from as far away as California and New York. St. Louis County police said in a late-evening email that between 8 a.m. Monday and 8 a.m Tuesday, that agency alone had arrested 52 people. Of those, 14 were from out of state.
“It is of note that 93% of those arrested were not Ferguson residents,” Officer Brian Schellman, spokesman for the St. Louis County Police Department, said in a statement. “Of all those arrested, 27% were not residents of Missouri.”
One of the arrested out-of-towners, Carl Dix of Brooklyn, N.Y., denied that outsiders meant trouble. “There are no outsiders in the struggle against injustice and oppression,” he said.
In his op-ed piece, Holder confirmed that the federal autopsy of Brown had been completed. A government source who asked not to be identified said a U.S. military medical examiner had concluded that Brown was shot six times.
The federal autopsy was the third postmortem on Brown. The first was conducted by the St. Louis County medical examiner, the second on behalf of Brown’s family. The private autopsy, like the federal postmortem, showed six gunshot wounds.
The results of the county autopsy have not been made public.
Holder has said the civil rights investigation will review the county-performed autopsy.
Local officials’ delay in releasing details of the shooting — including the name of the police officer involved — angered the community and led to allegations of an attempted coverup.
On Tuesday, a group of African American attorneys called for McCulloch, the county prosecutor, to recuse himself and let the Justice Department take over.
At a news conference on the steps of the courthouse in downtown St. Louis, Kendra Howard, leader of the Mound City Bar Assn., said residents of nearby Ferguson and elsewhere were “gravely concerned about the lack of transparency and lack of candor” from McCulloch’s office since Brown’s death.
“Mr. McCulloch has shown that he is emotionally invested in protecting law enforcement, and therefore should immediately step aside and allow the Justice Department to investigate the death,” Howard said.
Ed Magee, spokesman for the county prosecutor’s office, denied allegations that the office could not be impartial.
Nixon weighed in on the question of recusal in a late, brief and confusing email that talked about the need to stick to the “established process” for replacing the sitting prosecutor with a special prosecutor so as not to inject “legal uncertainty” into the volatile case.
“From the outset, I have been clear about the need to have a vigorous prosecution of this case, and that includes minimizing any potential legal uncertainty,” Nixon said. “I am not asking St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch to recuse himself from this case.”
Susman and Hennessy-Fiske reported from Ferguson, Serrano from Washington. Times staff writers Maria L. La Ganga in Seattle, Lauren Raab and Connie Stewart in Los Angeles and Matt Pearce in Ferguson contributed to this report.