POLITICS

Report: St. Louis County Police To Be Withdrawn From Duty After Ferguson Protests

The St. Louis County Police Department will no longer be involved in policing Ferguson, Missouri, the suburban community rocked by protests after the death of an unarmed black teenager who was shot by a police officer last week.

Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who represents Ferguson, told Bloomberg on Thursday that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) is expected to announce the decision later today.

"The gov. just called me and he's on his way to St. Louis now to announce he's taking St. Louis County police out of the situation," he said.

The situation, already tenuous after extensive police presence that included rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas since Michael Brown's death last week, exploded Wednesday evening after SWAT officers roughed up and arrested two reporters inside a local McDonald's. The journalists were unharmed, but the incident highlighted the town's ramped up police presence, which has been criticized as overly militarized.

It was unclear which authorities, either state police or the FBI, would be taking over in place of the St. Louis County Police Department.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the county police department was "not aware of reports that they are being relieved of duty."

The Ferguson Police Department has continued to withhold the identity of the officer who shot Brown, out of concern for his personal safety.

The governor released a statement on the situation on Wednesday evening, urging law enforcement to "keep the peace and respect the rights of residents and the press during this difficult time."

“I have been closely monitoring the situation and will continue to be in communication with local leaders, and I will be in north St. Louis County tomorrow," Nixon said. "As Governor, I am committed to ensuring the pain of last weekend’s tragedy does not continue to be compounded by this ongoing crisis."

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said Wednesday evening that she was in contact with local officials and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in order to "de escalate the tense and unacceptable situation" in Ferguson. She is also expected to meet with Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday.

UPDATE 12:32 p.m. ET -- In a statement released by her office Thursday afternoon, McCaskill said Thursday called on authorities to "de-militarize" the situation. "I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right. Today is going to be a new start, we can and need to do better," she said. The senator also confirmed that St. Louis County police were being relieved of their duty.

UPDATE 1:18pm ET -- Gov. Jay Nixon did not confirm the change in authority in remarks to residents in Florissant, Missouri on Thursday, but he did hint at "some of the operational shifts that I think are going to be necessary."

"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," he added, according to National Journal. "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."

He continued: "So we are over the next few hours making some shifts so that folks will feel safe as long as they honor what I said before...the property and the person of their neighbors. And quite frankly the vast, vast majority of people I've spoken to have done just that."

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