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On Day Of Updates, Some Questions Are Answered, Others Are Not

Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson at the microphone
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 9:30 p.m. with details from Chief Belmar on Wednesday morning's officer-involved shooting.

Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson said he supports the city's call for limiting protests over the shooting death of an unarmed teenager to daylight hours only. 

Protests outside the police station and near the site of the shooting have been daily occurrences since Saturday, when a Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown. Some of the demonstrations have been broken up by police using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Ferguson Mayor James W. Knowles and the City Council issued a statement with the request for limiting protests on Wednesday. It read in part:

"We ask that any groups wishing to assemble in prayer or in protest do so only during daylight hours in an organized and respectful manner. We further ask all those wishing to demonstrate or assemble to disperse well before the evening hours to ensure the safety of the participants and the safety of our community. Unfortunately, those who wish to co-opt peaceful protests and turn them into violent demonstrations have been able to do so over the past several days during the evening hours. These events are not indicative of the City of Ferguson and its residents."

"It's just a 'please,'" Jackson said, adding that he did not have anything to do with the release of the statement. "It's just been unsafe after dark." He said that officers will not break up peaceful protests as long as they do not block the street for extended periods. He said the level of police response to the protests would vary, although he hoped to scale it back soon.

State Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, D-University City and a frequent protestor, called the request "disgusting."

"This community deserves to express themselves," she said. "A lot of these young people are fed up, they’re angry and they’re hurt, and if they’re peacefully assembling, then they should assemble, whether it’s night or daytime."

About 5:45 p.m., Wednesday, Chapelle-Nadal was carried out of the street in Ferguson by organizers of a march down West Florissant. Organizers told St. Louis Public Radio reporter Dale Singer that they had told police they would clear the street by about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. At that point, several people, including Chapelle-Nadal, sat down at the intersection of West Florissant and Canfield, down the street from where Michael Brown was shot and killed.
At about 5:45 p.m., armored vehicles from St. Louis County police pulled up on West Florissant and a line of police with batons and shields stood between the vehicles and the protesters. Police got on a loud speaker and said, "You must disperse immediately or be subject to arrest. Return to your vehicles. Return to your homes."
Some protesters shouted, "We're not going anywhere." But eventually organizers of the protest carried off Chapelle-Nadal and others to a nearby parking lot.

At his earlier press conference, Ferguson chief Jackson acknowledged the racial divide in the community and said he's brought in the U.S. Department of Justice to help bridge that divide.

"It’s our first priority to address what’s wrong," he said. "The Department of Justice has a number of measures that we can use to improve race relations, community relations, and I’ve told them to tell me what to do and we’ll do it." He said the department is also helping arrange a meeting with Michael Brown's family.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. attorney in St. Louis and the Department of Justice announced today (Wednesday) that they have opened a civil rights investigation into Brown’s death.

Jackson said today that the department would soon release the 911 tapes from the day Brown was shot and killed. The department has faced sharp criticism for allowing Brown's body to lay in the street for hours, and protestors have asked why ambulances were not called to determine if Brown could have been saved.

But he stressed repeatedly that he could not provide any updates on the investigation into the shooting, which is being handled by St. Louis County.

St. Louis County: Ongoing Investigation

Meanwhile, in a press conference Wednesday, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said no more evidence into the Michael Brown investigation will be released until a grand jury decides if charges will be filed. That includes the name of the officer involved in the shooting of Brown.

But should the grand jury decide not to file charges in the case, McCulloch said he would seek court orders to release all evidence to the public.

“All of the transcripts of the testimony of every witness, every video clip, every piece of paper, every photograph, every bit of physical evidence, absolutely everything will immediately be made public,” McCulloch told reporters in Clayton.

As information continues to circulate on social media, McCulloch said his office will not discuss any more evidence publicly. He said keeping evidence private helps police to verify the authenticity of witnesses who do come forward.

McCulloch acknowledged that reaching out to witnesses who saw the shooting has been difficult. He said the key witness, Dorian Johnson who was with Brown on the day of the shooting, is being interviewed by county police and the FBI.

“We are urging anyone and everyone with any sort of statement, anyone who said they have a video or photograph that pertains to this, by all means contact us,” McCulloch said. “If you don’t want to contact the county police, contact the FBI. Contact the U.S. Attorney. Contact somebody and get that information to us.”

Although Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson had estimated the grand jury decision would take two weeks, McCulloch said it likely take longer. 

About a dozen protestors gathered outside the press conference, separated by large glass windows.

“We are Michael Brown,” they chanted.

Violence Continues

The killing of Michael Brown isn't the only shooting under investigation.

During protests Tuesday night, police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. 

In Ferguson, police chief Jackson could not give much more information about a drive-by shooting that occurred near the site of Brown's death. He did say, however that the young woman who was shot did not suffer life-threatening injuries. It was not clear if her assault was connected to the Michael Brown protests.

And a St. Louis County officer is on administrative leave after shooting and seriously wounding a man who police say pointed a gun at the officer early Wednesday morning.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said at a press conference Wednesday evening that the seven-year police veteran was called to help look for a group of eight masked men with a shotgun east of Ferguson. During his search, the officer came across 19-year-old Esrail Eli Britton wearing a handkerchief around his face – much like the ones Belmar says protestors have used against tear gas. Belmar says he doesn’t know if the man was involved in the nearby protests or not.

According to Belmar, Britton had his hands around his waistband and didn’t comply when the officer told him to raise his hands. After a short foot chase, Belmar says Britton “flourished” a gun directly at the officer, who fired and struck Britton twice. The teenager is now in critical condition, preventing police from questioning him.

Britton has been charged with felony second-degree assault of an officer and armed criminal action. The gun involved has been recovered, and Belmar says police and the county prosecutor will review the incident.

“I don’t see anything on this shooting regarding the justification that I would question,” Belmar says. “I think it’s reasonable to expect that when a police officer has a handgun pointed at him at close range that he’s certainly in imminent fear for his life.”

Belmar says he is proud that his officers have shown an “incredible amount of restraint” given the “dozens” of gun shots he says he’s personally witnessed during the last several days of unrest. But he says he had been “in fear” that such a shooting would happen since Michael Brown’s death on Saturday.

“I thought it was remarkable that it hadn’t happened sooner,” he says.

Belmar also says calling in the National Guard is a possibility, but says so far his problem isn’t manpower, but “the tempo of activity.”

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Follow Durrie Bouscaren on Twitter: @durrieB

Follow Stephanie Lecci on Twitter: @stephlecci

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.
Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.