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Police Reaching Out To Colleagues With Fragile Mental Health

By Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

ST. LOUIS — Filling out a traffic crash report felt as challenging as a chemistry test to Joan “Joann” Glover Straughter. A call for all available units boomed across the St. Louis police sergeant’s radio, but she didn’t flinch. Questioned later about why she didn’t respond, she exploded in anger, then cried.

Three days before, at a restaurant where she worked a security job, Glover Straughter had fatally shot a man who raised a gun at her after ignoring her commands to drop it.

She went through the motions of department protocol: completing a psychological evaluation, making a statement to investigators and returning to work three days later. But as the investigation moved ahead, she felt like she was moving backward.

Routine paperwork took hours. She would get ready for work three hours early but barely arrive in time. Sometimes, she couldn’t remember how she got where she was.

“It was like my brain was not clicking like I was accustomed to,” she explained recently. “It was like I was trying to do hopscotch and wasn’t sure which leg I wanted to move.”

Some colleagues noticed her distress, and told her they understood. For years, some city officers involved in shootings have informally mentored each other through the variety of emotions — including anger, grief and paranoia — that follow.

Most won’t talk publicly about it. As one put it: “I really don’t want to unpackage that.”

Other cops, who never shot anybody, also opened up to Glover Straughter about living risky off-duty lifestyles to keep up the adrenaline rush the job has conditioned their bodies to crave. And to dissipate the emotional traumas that build up.

Call to call.

Day to day.

Year to year.

Glover Straughter has made it her mission to minister to them, freely trading stories of their experiences.

The conversations intensified after the Ferguson police killing of Michael Brown. Cops repeatedly endured verbal and physical attacks while facing off with angry protesters. Their role as hero-protector was under challenge in social media. Police conduct became a headline topic in news stories that equated some cops to race-driven murderers.

“People think we are gun-happy and we want to shoot and kill, but that’s not the case,” she said. “Because of my faith, the Word tells me as a police officer, I’m a minister of God. And Scripture tells us we have to defend by self-defense.”

She hopes the Ferguson shooting can be the catalyst for publicly addressing not only police behavior but the mental challenges that can shape it — the very core of her hushed conversations among concerned cops.

Increasingly, it looks like she may get her wish.

Recommendations that departments formally address the mental health of officers are part of both the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the Ferguson Commission’s reports. It’s unclear how or when that may play out.

In the meantime, the St. Louis Police Wives Association has been raising money to provide mental health care as needed by local officers and their families. And researchers at the University of Missouri-St. Louis are studying the effects of the Ferguson experience on cops.

Glover Straughter couldn’t be happier about it.

“A lot goes on in the streets. You see things, like babies getting hurt, and our brains are not equipped for that day in and day out,” she said. “And yet you don’t think about maintenance on your brain. We get our hearts checked … try to work out. So my question is, ‘You are trying to take care of all this, why not taking care of your brain?’ It’s a muscle that needs to be kept in working order as well.”

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said his department was talking about mental health before the Ferguson shooting. “We noticed that police departments in Missouri are woefully behind in addressing these issues,” he said. Larger departments like his have “early warning systems” to gauge whether an officer is struggling. While the city seeks to upgrade its system, he said his department is focused on training peer counselors.

“If there is some type of mental or physical problem, it’s going to affect an officer’s performance, and it’s a domino effect,” he said.

President Barack Obama’s policing task force saw the same thing.

“Hurt people can hurt people,” member Tracey Meares warned a hearing in February.

That group’s report, released in March, concluded: “The ‘bulletproof cop’ does not exist. The officers who protect us must also be protected — against incapacitating physical, mental and emotional health problems as well as against the hazards of their jobs.”

St. Louis County police include mental health awareness training in their academy, including a suicide awareness class, said Sgt. Jeremy Romo of the Crisis Intervention Team.

Romo’s team typically trains police on de-escalating situations involving the mentally ill. After Ferguson, it began looking inward, too. Now it refers officers in need to two mental health professionals with law enforcement backgrounds. That helps overcome reluctance to confide in an outsider, he said.

“One thing Ferguson brought to light nationwide is that law enforcement does a really good job of taking care of people in the community with mental health needs, but we do a horrible job of taking care of our own,” Romo said.

The president’s task force said, “An agency work environment in which officers do not feel they are respected, supported or treated fairly is one of the most common sources of stress.”

The mental health issue lurks behind some high-profile controversies. An officer who resigned after video showed him forcefully dispersing a crowd of teens at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, had just responded to back-to-back suicides, his lawyer, Jane Bishkin, said. “With all that had happened that day, he allowed his emotions to get the better of him.”

But poor mental health cannot be an excuse for misconduct, said Dr. John Violanti, a research professor at the University of Buffalo who testified before the president’s task force. “Personality factors and a lot of different things can lead to that behavior; stress is a contributor,” he said. An officer’s disposition, exposure to incidents in a given shift and the time of day can matter, he said.

“In a period of 20 years, can you imagine the trauma an officer sees?” asked Violanti, a New York State Police trooper, investigator and department psychological assistance coordinator for 23 years.

A study in the president’s task force report estimates that police kill themselves almost 2 times more often than others kill them.

Violanti cited the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that suggest police are at a 69 percent greater risk than the average U.S. worker of committing suicide. He said various studies estimate that between 7 percent to 19 percent of all officers experience post-traumatic stress syndrome at some point.

An officer in Caseyville shot himself to death on duty last month.

Glover Straughter said she believes she has helped prevent three officers from taking their lives.

Peer programs work, Violanti said, because police trust each other. Many fear that revealing themselves to bosses might cost them promotions, or even their jobs.

He said officers who resist mandatory counseling may respond to incentives and finesse. He recommends cash bonuses or extra time off to reward cops who submit to “wellness checks” for whatever ails them, physically or mentally.

Violanti said police already under high stress were demoralized after Ferguson, when ” … all of a sudden, it seems like all people think all officers are bad.” He explained, “Most cops sign up for the job because they want to help people, and that may decline over the years, but they’re still there.

“And to not be appreciated for risking their life every day is not a good feeling.”

Those close to the problem say the old stresses are exacerbated by relatively new concerns after Ferguson. Cyberattacks put officers’ credit and privacy at risk, said Shannon Dandridge, a leader in the wives association. Some cops feared obsessively for their families’ safety.

“Our kids can’t wear their police garb anymore because it’s not safe to do,” said Dandridge, a Ferguson dispatcher whose husband is a retired St. Louis officer. “You never know when you go to the grocery store, and you meet someone, what they might say.

“It used to be really cool to do that, like, ‘Wow, my mom or dad is a police officer.'”

Using funds donated to its Blue Line Project, the wives association has coordinated mental health services for about two dozen officers since unrest in Ferguson, and for about 30 of their children. The group also operates a 24-hour crisis hotline for police.

Trauma recovery researchers at UMSL, who are studying officers working within 30 miles of Ferguson, were surprised to get 300 responses when, as associate professor Zoe Peterson put it, “There’s not much incentive to admit you have PTSD.” The last of three rounds of queries will come in December. That most didn’t collect the $20 participation stipend “speaks to the fact that they wanted a little bit of a voice to say where they are hurting,” said Tara Galovski, a former assistant professor at UMSL who remains part of the study.

So far, officers have reported a range of emotions, from mild anxiety or sleeplessness to excessive drinking and flashbacks, Galovski said. Some started calling in sick or withdrawing from family and friends.

Glover Straughter remembers an overwhelming sense of paranoia following her shooting. She feared retaliation or that the department would fault what she did.

All kinds of emotions teem just below the surface.

Dandridge, of the wives association, remembers getting a call from the scene where a 5-year-old boy was killed in north St. Louis. The commander thought some officers might need emotional help. That was logical, Dandridge figured, given the violent death of a young child.

But there was more to this one.

It happened in a neighborhood where police felt great apprehension _ “Black Lives Matter” signs in windows and yards conjured up memories of confrontations from protests past. Officers didn’t expect an outpouring of gratitude for trying to save the child and find his killer.

When residents started hugging the cops, it was too much for some of them to take, Dandridge tearfully recalled. “Everything that they had tried to keep in the back of their minds came to the forefront,” she said.

For Glover Straughter, talking among her peers and with professionals has helped put the trauma of the shooting in the back of her mind. Investigators concluded the killing was justified, and she was awarded a Medal of Valor.

She still avoids the restaurant where it happened. And the fact the man she killed was 20 — close to the age of her own kids — resonates.

“Knowing how much I love them, it hurt to the core to know somebody’s son was not going to be home for the holidays,” she said. “It’s something I always say we just weren’t prepared for on this job.”

Photo: Officers Joan Glover Straughter and Dondrell Harris pose for a portrait on Aug. 19, 2015 in St. Louis. The two St. Louis police officers are being honored and called heroes for an incident in 2013 when they stopped a would-be robber in a restaurant full of people. The two officers were working a secondary job when an armed man came into the restaurant and pointed a gun at them. Straughter was forced to shoot the robber when he refused to put the gun down. (J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson Resigns

By Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

FERGUSON, Mo. — Police Chief Thomas Jackson has resigned from the Ferguson Police Department effective March 19, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has learned.

Sources say Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff will be appointed as the department’s interim chief until a national search for a permanent chief can be conducted.

Jackson, 57, is the sixth city employee to leave in the wake of a scathing federal Department of Justice report that alleged racist police and court practices that aim only to raise the city’s revenue instead of protecting its citizens.

In an exclusive interview, Jackson said he felt it was time for the city to move on.

“I believe this is the appropriate thing to do at this time,” Jackson said. “This city needs to move forward without any distractions.”

In his emailed resignation letter sent to Mayor James Knowles III at about 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jackson wrote:

“It is with profound sadness that I am announcing I am stepping down from my position as chief of police for the city of Ferguson Missouri. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this great city and to serve with all of you,” his letter continued. “I will continue to assist the city in anyway I can in my capacity as private citizen.”

A press conference was called for City Hall later Wednesday.

Rumors also swirled Wednesday that Knowles was to resign, but he said he did not have plans to do so.

Jackson initially told the city his resignation would be effective March 19. City officials then contacted him Wednesday afternoon and said it should take effect immediately. After discussion about the need for a transition team, both sides settled on March 19 as his official departure date.

Last week, the Justice Department also concluded there was no evidence with which to charge former Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, 18.

But in a separate report, the department report revealed racist emails that were sent by court and police officials, and portrayed a police department and court that discriminated against African-Americans from the initial traffic stop to how they were treated in court.

Since then, the city fired Court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty. Police Capt. Rick Henke and Sgt. William Mudd resigned after they were tied to the emails.

Both police commanders had more than 30 years on the force. Mudd had won the Medal of Valor for his actions in taking down a killer in bloody courthouse shooting in Clayton in 1992. He was most recently Wilson’s supervisor.

Municipal Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer resigned Monday, and City Manager John Shaw resigned during Tuesday’s council meeting. Shaw was criticized in the Justice Department report for praising Brockmeyer as a money maker and revenue generator for the city.

The report also heavily criticized Jackson for his role in using the city’s police force to generate revenue, quoting emails in which he lobbied to switch to 12-hour shifts that would put more officers on the streets and increase traffic enforcement. The report said such schedules are shown to diminish community policing efforts.

The report also quoted unnamed Ferguson police officers who expressed concerns about the department’s emphasis on ticket writing.

In addition, the report criticized the police department for not having adequate accountability systems in place for documenting use-of-force incidents and pedestrian checks.

The report also takes the department and Jackson to task for holding people in jail for more than 72 hours at a time as well as using canines only on African-American suspects.

The federal investigation also found that city police officers stop African-Americans at higher rates than the city’s African-American population.

Photo: Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson announces the name of the police officer responsible for the August 9 shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 15, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri (AFP/Scott Olsen)

Security Companies Seek Exemptions In Requirements To Send Officers To Ferguson

By Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (TNS)

CLAYTON, Mo. — Local and out-of-state guard companies are asking the St. Louis County police for exemptions in security officer licensing requirements to meet an increased demand as the Ferguson grand jury decision draws nearer.

The response has been an expedited process but a refusal to bend the rules.

Police Chief Jon Belmar explained, “I’m reluctant to recommend a variance. If we have an issue of a security officer involved in an incident and someone gets hurt, certainly the question that can come back to us is, ‘You licensed this individual, did you follow your normal protocol?’ And our answer must be, ‘Yes.'”

The compromise has not been good enough for some, Lt. Jeff Burk, head of the department’s records division, told the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners last week. Since 2012, the county had handled licensing for the approximately 8,600 private guards who work there and in the city of St. Louis.

Burk said his phone continues to ring with calls from companies still seeking exemptions. He said there have been a lot, but he has not kept a tally.

“It seems they’re basing a decision on a financial standpoint instead of doing what’s right,” Burk said. “But that doesn’t relieve these companies of liability should someone come in as a security guard and take actions.”

While the police board balked at granting exemptions, the department has expedited a process that used to take three to six weeks — much of it for fingerprint checks by the Missouri Highway Patrol. The work has been compressed into three days, with help from the patrol and by offering classes on weekends to train potential security officers.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained two letters — from the G4S Secure Solutions Inc. and AlliedBarton Security Services — seeking concessions.

AlliedBarton’s letter, dated Oct. 30, requested that security officers be allowed to work before the fingerprint reports come back because the delay “limits our ability to provide our clients the increased coverage they are requesting during this time.”

A letter dated Nov. 14 from G4S requests temporary waivers for 350 guards licensed in other states “due to a high volume of requests from local businesses for emergency security coverage.” The letter cites, “Wells Fargo, Bank of America, American Water, and Trader Joe’s just to name a few.”

Daniel Getz, who wrote the G4S letter, said only, “There’s not much for me to say since we haven’t received a response.”

Wells Fargo and Bank of America did not return requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s declined comment.

Christie Barnhart, a spokeswoman for Missouri American Water, said she was unaware of any shortage of security officers that her company was seeking to fill.

During protests in August, she said, “We limited our response to emergency orders only, like main breaks. And what we requested previously is that our employees going into the area be accompanied by a security officer to fix the break.” She added, “We are continuing to monitor the situation and the safety of our employees is paramount.”

Officials here are wary of out-of-state licenses because they cannot know how the standards differ. One company offered to bring in off-duty Chicago police, but Burk said even they would not be familiar with Missouri laws.

“Some places allow you to read a booklet and take a test,” Burk said. “We don’t know what they’re teaching. We teach use of force and we can hold these people accountable through disciplinary measures.”

Police board Chairman Roland Corvington supports the firm stand, and said applicants should appreciate the sped-up process. “It seems to me that we’ve extended the olive branch and they didn’t take it,” he said.

Corvington said the sudden urgency by private security companies reflects “poor planning on their part.”

Burk’s office also has been inundated with applications for permits to carry concealed firearms. About 1,649 people applied from Aug. 1 through Nov. 12, up about 57 percent from the 1,049 during the same time last year.

MCT Photo/J.B. Forbes/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Nobody Counts Police Killings In The U.S.

By Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

ST. LOUIS — Federal, state and local agencies license police officers to kill, if necessary, but nobody counts all the bodies or tracks what, if any, consequences might follow.

The numbers that do exist are hardly complete.

The nation’s approximately 18,000 police agencies are expected to submit specified categories of crime statistics every year to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. But inclusion of justifiable homicides is optional.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch analysis of the data from 2005-12 shows more than 1,100 departments — or roughly 6 percent of the country’s law enforcement agencies — have reported a killing by an officer or private citizen that is considered justifiable.

Moreover, the federal data do not record how often police face criminal consequences for using deadly force. A police killing that is deemed a murder presumably is just included among the jurisdiction’s other criminal killings.

The Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown, who is black, by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, ignited not only racially charged protests and riots but also fresh questions about the frequency of police killings.

The Police Foundation, a nonpartisan national research group, has been among those seeking answers.

“The lack of data is a real problem. It leaves a tremendous void in the evidence that surrounds this public discussion of police use of force,” Jim Bueermann, the foundation president, said in an interview. “And in a void, people fill that with their own narrative based on their own experiences.”

He continued, “We’re all entitled to opinions but not (our own) facts. That’s important in policy and legislative decision-making, and right now there’s a lack of good data on a national scale about police use of force. And when we ultimately fix that situation, we may discover police use less force than we think they do, or more, and we may discover police are assaulted more often.”

In 1994, Congress directed the attorney general to “acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers” as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.

The International Association of Police Chiefs was asked to gather the information. Its last report dates to 2001, the last year for which federal funding was available, said Gene Voegtlin, director of the organization’s partner engagement and outreach.

“The difficulty is that it’s a massive undertaking,” Voegtlin said.

Voegtlin said the advent of better databases and technology might make it easier to collect the information now than it was more than a decade ago. Police chiefs have an intense interest in all use-of-force data, not just shootings, he said.

“It goes with being an effective leader,” Voegtlin said. “Officers are provided training and education and we need to have … a sense that proper procedures are being followed.”

The incomplete FBI statistics covering 2005-12 indicate that police killed 3,155 people in that period.

No departments are included in the data from Florida, and only Chicago and Rockford are included from Illinois. New York City hasn’t reported one since 2006, and only three cities from New York state are represented at all.

But in some years — sometimes several years in a row — a number of major cities that at least occasionally participate had reported no justified homicides. They include San Francisco; Boston; Minneapolis; Cleveland; Charlotte, N.C.; Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Neb.; Raleigh, N.C.; and El Paso, Texas.

It’s not clear if none occurred in those agencies or if they simply didn’t report them. Counting criteria also vary among departments. And some miss the cutoff dates for submission into a given year’s data, so local numbers can differ a little from the FBI’s count.

In Missouri, 39 departments provided data at some point in the period, including about a dozen in the St. Louis area. The largest totals came from St. Louis police, with 33 fatal shootings, and St. Louis County police, with eight.

In 2010, a justifiable homicide by a St. Louis citizen was incorrectly coded as a justifiable homicide by a St. Louis police officer. So the FBI listed three suspects as being killed by St. Louis police that year instead of two. The information cannot be corrected because it was discovered after an 18-month deadline for corrections.

Clearly, there are officer-involved killings in some St. Louis-area communities not included in the database:

–In 2005, a Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed two people in a pickup.

–In 2007, a Maryville officer shot and killed a man who fired shots into a house.

–In 2012, St. Charles County sheriff’s deputies killed a man who shot two deputies and stabbed another.

Though the picture of killings by police is vague, the Justice Department keeps careful track of the officers killed in the line of duty and the demographics of the killers. There were 535 officers killed between 2003 and 12. Of 595 people charged in those deaths, about 51 percent were white, and 43 percent were black.

The St. Louis region is bracing for more protests if a St. Louis County grand jury does not charge Wilson with a crime in the killing of Brown.

Officials said Brown had just committed a strong-arm robbery at a store. There is evidence that Wilson, in his patrol SUV, struggled with Brown, who was leaning in the driver’s window, and that the officer’s pistol discharged at least once, wounding Brown in the thumb.

The controversy is centered on some witness claims that after Brown ran away, he stopped and tried to surrender before being shot to death. Sources close to Wilson say the officer fired after seeing Brown coming back after him.

It would be unusual for a police officer to face criminal charges for an on-duty killing in the St. Louis area. The last time prosecutors could recall was in 1999. St. Louis Officer Robert Dodson was charged with second-degree murder for the death of a burglary suspect on the roof of a pawnshop. A jury acquitted him.

David Klinger, a criminologist and use-of-force scholar at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said there is a simple reason for so few prosecutions: “Most of the time what cops do with deadly force is correct.”

Klinger, a former Los Angeles police officer whose own on-duty killing of a man was ruled justified, has been asked to testify in court as an expert witness both for and against accused officers. He cited three cases as instructive:

––In 2009, Everett, Wash., Officer Troy Meade fatally shot the driver, 51, of a car he said was coming at him in a parking lot confrontation. Prosecutors charged Meade with second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter, but a jury acquitted him.

––In 2000, Hudson, Ill., Officer Jeffrey Gabor fired shots that killed a driver, 27, who left a gas station without paying, led a chase and tried to maneuver his car after being penned in by police vehicles. A prosecutor charged Gabor with first-degree murder, but a jury acquitted him.

––In 2003, Houston Officer Arthur Carbonneau fatally shot a boy, 14, during a scuffle in what Carbonneau said was an accidental discharge of his gun. A grand jury indicted him and a trial jury convicted him of criminally negligent homicide, the least severe of three options. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail plus probation. It came at a tense time, after an off-duty officer had killed a 15-year-old three weeks before in what police said was an accident. That officer was fired but not charged.

Klinger testified for the defense in the criminal trials in Washington and Illinois, and for the family against the Houston police officer and his department in the resulting civil lawsuit trial in Texas.

The database of police shootings envisioned by the Police Foundation would include all fatalities, whether charges resulted or not, said Bueermann, the president and a retired police chief from Redlands, Calif.

“We want to do this for scientific reasons because we want to understand police use of firearms better,” Bueermann said.

“It’s not only to better understand their own agency, but see how they compare to others like them,” he noted.

Failing that, he said, local officials should mandate police departments to track their own data and make it publicly available.

“Clearly, the rate of force used by the police should be transparent and available to the public,” he said. “If people knew how violent the interactions are, they might be shocked at how low the use of force might be.”

AFP Photo/Jim Watson

Police In St. Louis Area Brace For Weekend Of Protests

By Christine Byers and Robert Patrick, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

FERGUSON, Mo. — Police already tense from a series of violent confrontations have turned to 12-hours shifts and limits on vacations as they face a new challenge of potentially hostile protests that may blanket the region this weekend.

Effective Thursday, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson began requiring that two officers answer every call, even for a parking violation.

St. Louis County officers and Missouri Highway Patrol troopers also are on 12-hour shifts. Ferguson has all its officers working through Monday.

The immediate concern is a national invitation that could bring protesters by the thousands to the area to vent frustrations stoked by the Aug. 9 killing by white Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

A march to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s office Friday will kick off days of marches, rallies and civil disobedience planned by organizers who demand action on behalf of Brown and others they say struggle against racial profiling and police violence.

Mervyn Marcano, a spokesman for “Ferguson October: A Weekend of Resistance,” said he expects 6,000 to 10,000 people at attend.

“I’m coming to Ferguson because repentance has not happened there yet,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian magazine Sojourners and a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama. He is one of the key speakers at Sunday night’s interfaith event at St. Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena.

Wallis said from his base in Washington, D.C., “What is very clear is black lives just are worthless in America.”

On the “Ferguson October” website, people are seeking or offering rides to the area from as far away as Massachusetts, Florida and California. The site is brokering free lodging and information about hotels, mainly in downtown St. Louis and Clayton.

Lamont Lill, said in a telephone interview that he’s coming with a group of 15 “mostly young, mostly organizers of color” from the Durham, N.C., area because “the country we live in does not recognize … our humanity.”

He added, “I belong to a nationality of people who are being killed by the police every day anyway. Every day of my life is a risk. So I might as well be serving a cause … the cause of justice and of humanity.”

Some volunteers are being trained to direct traffic, act as medics, mediate conflict, distribute water, provide information and clean up.

Many of the events are scheduled for downtown St. Louis, with some arranged by local organizations, Marcano said.

Said Ferguson Township Democratic Committeewoman Patricia Bynes, “I’m glad that they’re going places other than Ferguson because the people of Ferguson are a little tired.”

Several dozen protesters have demonstrated outside Busch Stadium at recent baseball games, including the National League Division Series games this week. No protests are publicly listed for the St. Louis Cardinals’ first two league championship games against the San Francisco Giants, on Saturday and Sunday.

Abby Bobe, interviewed Tuesday in the Ferguson offices of the group Hands Up United, said protesters plan to “peacefully” make people “uncomfortable” to expose hate and racism that will be recorded and posted on social media. “OK, let’s show the world what you look like,” he said.

Bobe said that eventually, they will work on “growing white empathy.”

Marcano said he expects Saturday’s march and rally in downtown St. Louis to be perhaps the biggest of events that include rallies, teach-ins, potluck meals and training sessions.

Kept quiet, for now, are a series of “autonomous, decentralized actions” throughout the weekend, said Andy Stepanian, another spokesman. That includes a sit-in on “Moral Monday,” named for a series of protests last year in North Carolina that resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Stepanian said he anticipates that most of these actions will culminate in civil disobedience. “I don’t see it as far-fetched that arrests might happen all three days,” he said.

Bobe said organizers would release information on the smaller events just an hour before, to limit law enforcement’s ability to prepare.

Bobe, who has been arrested and, she says, hit with a Ferguson police officer’s baton, said that many of the protests started out peacefully but became aggressive after police arrived.

Dotson, the city police chief, said “We have a responsibility to protect those who want to come and express their First Amendment rights as well as those who are coming to enjoy hockey games, baseball games, et cetera. It is prudent that we have the resources to do both.”

It has been a difficult period for police. While a St. Louis County grand jury continues to investigate whether Wilson’s killing of Brown was a crime, other episodes have put officers on edge.

On Sunday, a man fired shots at two St. Louis officers at about 6 p.m. as they were responding to a call for a “suspicious person” in the 4500 block of Chouteau Avenue. They returned fire and he ran. Nobody was hit or arrested.

On Sept. 27, a man ran from a Ferguson officer then ambushed him and shot him in the arm. The gunman fled.

Also Sept. 27, someone in a car fired multiple shots at an off-duty St. Louis city police officer while he was driving his personal vehicle on Interstate 70 near Hanley Road. He was not hurt. It was not clear if the attack was targeted or random.

Jeff Roorda, business manager of the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, said the tension is taking a toll.

“These guys go to work with a badge in one hand and their lives in another and they don’t know which one they are going to have to give up at the end of the day,” he said. “It’s a terrible burden for them to be put in a situation where they have to use deadly force, and by God when they do, they shouldn’t have to worry about a trial in the court of public opinion before the evidence and facts come to light.”

He also said, “We want our officers to be safe, and being safe right now means having enough of them out there.”

Although the first scheduled event does not occur until this morning, Ferguson canceled Thursday night’s municipal court after hearing of a planned disruption, said police Col. Al Eickhoff.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

 

Grand Jury Now Has Until January To Decide Whether To Charge Ferguson Officer

By Christine Byers, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

CLAYTON, Mo. — The grand jury considering whether Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson should be criminally charged in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown now has until Jan. 7 to decide.

The extension of the grand jurors’ term of duty does not necessarily mean the job will take that long, officials said. But it could.

There is significant apprehension, especially along the West Florissant Avenue business strip hit by looting and rioting after the killing Aug. 9, that violence might return if the grand jury does not send Wilson to trial for something. Some activists have threatened as much.

A St. Louis County grand jury usually sits for four months, a period that for the current panel expired last week. State law provides for a term of up to six months, which moves the date to November. On Sept. 10, Circuit Judge Carolyn Whittington issued an order adding 60 days more.

“She extended it to the full amount allowed by law,” Court Administrator Paul Fox said Monday. But he said the grand jury will keeping meeting until Jan. 7 only if it needs to.

The panel now is hearing evidence in the Michael Brown case exclusively, and can meet whenever it needs to, Fox said.

The grand jury is 12 people selected from the standard jury pool to meet in secret, usually weekly, to hear evidence and decide whether criminal charges are warranted. It takes nine votes to issue an indictment, which sends a defendant to a public trial.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch can bypass a grand jury and take a case to trial by filing a complaint that goes first to a preliminary hearing, a public proceeding in which a judge decides if there should be a trial. Often, his office files a charge first and then obtains an indictment to replace it, avoiding the preliminary hearing.

McCulloch chose to take the full investigation of Wilson’s use of deadly force to the grand jury. He announced weeks ago that he would present all the evidence gathered, leaving to grand jurors the decision of what to do.

His spokesman, Ed Magee, said Monday it is a somewhat unusual circumstance in that the office is not asking the grand jury to endorse a charge already filed. He said prosecutors will help the grand jury navigate legal issues while drawing its own conclusion about what to do with Wilson.

Wilson is entitled but not obligated to testify. If he does, he must leave his attorney at the door.

Police said that Wilson, who is white, struggled with Brown, 18, who is black, and that during the episode Brown was killed by Wilson’s shots. Some witnesses claimed Brown was surrendering when he died.

AFP Photo/Joshua Lott

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