Missouri Governor Says State Highway Patrol Will Take Over in Ferguson

The city has begun to resemble “a war zone,” Gov. Jay Nixon said. “And it’s unacceptable.”

Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.  
Sarah Mimms and Kaveh Waddell
Aug. 14, 2014, 9:11 a.m.

Mis­souri Gov. Jay Nix­on an­nounced Thursday that the Mis­souri High­way Patrol will take con­trol of the situ­ation in Fer­guson from St. Louis County and loc­al po­lice.

“What’s gone on in the last few days is not what Mis­souri is about. It’s not what Fer­guson is about,” Nix­on said at a Thursday af­ter­noon press con­fer­ence. “This is a place where people work, go to school, raise your fam­il­ies, and go to church. A di­verse com­munity, a Mis­souri com­munity—and lately it’s looked like a war zone and it’s un­ac­cept­able.”

Nix­on’s an­nounce­ment will help to clear up some of the con­fu­sion in Fer­guson, where the city’s po­lice, St. Louis County po­lice, St. Louis city po­lice, the high­way patrol, and fed­er­al au­thor­it­ies have all been in­volved in the pro­cess of se­cur­ing the city’s streets and in­vest­ig­at­ing the shoot­ing of Mi­chael Brown. Nix­on’s de­cision to put con­trol of the situ­ation in the hands of the high­way patrol will not af­fect the in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to Brown’s death, he said.

However, “the im­me­di­ate se­cur­ity re­spons­ib­il­ity will be dir­ec­ted by Mis­souri State High­way Patrol, who have proven them­selves time and again when Mis­souri­ans have needed them the most,” Nix­on said.

Nix­on’s an­nounce­ment comes on the heels of ru­mors throughout the day that the St. Louis County po­lice would be re­lieved from their du­ties in the area. The city of Fer­guson has been the site of a num­ber of clashes between of­ficers and pro­test­ers in the days since an of­ficer shot Brown, an un­armed 18-year-old.

Loc­al po­lice clashed with pro­test­ers after Brown’s death on Sat­urday, draw­ing cri­ti­cism for heavy-handed tac­tics. Po­lice have used tear gas and rub­ber bul­lets on demon­strat­ors, and an 18-year-old man was crit­ic­ally in­jured early Wed­nes­day morn­ing when he was shot by po­lice.

Nix­on said he hoped that the city would see a de­crease in vi­ol­ent clashes between pro­test­ers and of­ficers as a res­ult of the change. “I think you’ll see as the af­ter­noon and even­ing starts, a little dif­fer­ent pic­ture and our hope is that that will be­gin,” he said.

High­way Patrol Cap­tain Ron John­son wouldn’t get in­to spe­cif­ics when asked wheth­er of­ficers would patrol the streets with ar­mored vehicles and oth­er mil­it­ary-style equip­ment Thursday even­ing. Of­ficers will make an as­sess­ment Thursday, he said, to “make sure we’re not tak­ing re­sources out there that we don’t need, but when we do need those re­sources they will still be here.”

John­son said he would be on the streets him­self to­night. He said he will stop by the QuikTrip in Fer­guson, which “has been called ‘Ground Zero,’ ” to meet with pro­test­ers and listen to their con­cerns.

When the St. Louis Post-Dis­patch called on the St. Louis County po­lice to ask about its ap­par­ent pending re­mov­al earli­er Thursday, the de­part­ment said it was un­aware it was be­ing re­lieved of its du­ties.

Of­fi­cials in Fer­guson still have not re­leased the name of the of­ficer who shot Brown and Nix­on told re­port­ers Thursday that he per­son­ally was un­aware of the of­ficer’s name. “I’m not con­duct­ing in­vest­ig­a­tions,” he said.

Nix­on thanked loc­al po­lice of­ficers for their work in re­cent days and said that the high­way patrol will be lead by John­son, who grew up in the area.

“I know that Fer­guson will not be defined as a com­munity torn apart by vi­ol­ence, but will be known as the com­munity that pulled to­geth­er to over­come it. Today we re­new our com­mit­ment to bring peace to the fam­il­ies of Fer­guson. Today we com­mit to en­sur­ing the safety and se­cur­ity of our com­munit­ies and mak­ing sure they are served with justice and re­spect by their lead­ers,” Nix­on said.

Earli­er Thursday, Nix­on spoke in a meet­ing with res­id­ents at a church in Floris­sant, a neigh­bor­ing sub­urb of St. Louis. “There is a cer­tain level of emo­tion that must be ex­pressed in or­der for us to reach a high­er plane, and my sense is that over the last few days there has been a fear to hear,” Nix­on told res­id­ents at the church. “A fear to hear, not just about this ac­tion, but about how it fits in a much longer and broad­er con­text of a deep­er march to justice.”

Nix­on also pushed back on po­lice’s treat­ment of the me­dia in the city, after re­port­ers for The Wash­ing­ton Post and The Huff­ing­ton Post were ar­res­ted yes­ter­day. Two Na­tion­al Journ­al re­port­ers were also threatened with ar­rest. Nix­on said the city needed to al­low mem­bers of the me­dia to do their jobs, to show the truth of what is hap­pen­ing in Fer­guson—al­though he joked that he wished they’d make him look “young­er and skin­ni­er” as well. The city must make sure, he said, that “in these trans­itions, re­gard­less of what we look like, that the true emo­tion is not tamped down.”

Nix­on said that he spoke with Pres­id­ent Obama earli­er in the day about the situ­ation in Fer­guson.

Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill of Mis­souri spoke briefly at the church gath­er­ing be­fore Nix­on’s ar­rival, call­ing for the de­mil­it­ar­iz­a­tion of loc­al po­lice. “This kind of re­sponse by the po­lice has be­come the prob­lem in­stead of the solu­tion,” the Demo­crat said.

Mc­Caskill’s of­fice said that she will be meet­ing with At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er later Thursday to dis­cuss the re­sponse in Fer­guson. The sen­at­or also said she has met with young people in the city and was giv­ing out her per­son­al cell-phone num­ber to Fer­guson res­id­ents. “I ex­pect it to be used so that I can be called to the task, to do whatever I can pos­sibly do,” Mc­Caskill said.

The role of state po­lice var­ies by state. In Mis­souri, the statewide agency in charge of poli­cing is the Mis­souri State High­way Patrol. Al­though its primary pur­pose is to “en­force the traffic laws and pro­mote safety upon the high­ways,” the Mis­souri State High­way Patrol in­vest­ig­ates ma­jor crimes in the state and runs a crime lab, func­tion­ing as a full-fledged poli­cing agency.

This post was up­dated at 4:37 p.m. to in­clude com­ments from Gov. Nix­on’s press con­fer­ence.