Aug 14 11:25 AM

St. Louis County police relieved of duty in Ferguson

Police stand watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday.
Scott Olson / Getty Images

[Updated 5:30 P.M. EDT] Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has removed the St. Louis County police from the streets of Ferguson, Mo., and handed oversight to the Missouri State Highway Patrol under the command of Capt. Ronald S. Johnson.

Capt. Johnson, a native of Ferguson, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said he was committed to the town’s safety and also to allowing demonstrators to “have their say.”

"I grew up here and this is clearly my community and my home. Therefore, this means a lot to me personally," Johnson said. "I understand the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling, and I understand and respect both of those."

[Updated 2:10 P.M. EDT] Appearing at a St. Louis church on Thursday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said there would be an “operational shift” in the way police handled protests in Ferguson. The suburb has seen four nights of community protests and aggressive police response since Saturday when 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police.

“You will see a different tone,” said Nixon.

The governor appeared with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who told the audience inside the church that St. Louis County should “demilitarize the police response.” McCaskill later said, “The police response has been part of the problem,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

McCaskill also said it was her understanding that the St. Louis County police would no longer be involved in the Ferguson response, but did not elaborate.

Earlier, Missouri State Representative Lacy Clay told Bloomberg News that Gov. Nixon had called to say that he was “on his way to St. Louis now to announce he’s taking … St. Louis County police out of the situation.”

According to Clay, Nixon said he might ask the FBI to step in. Clay had called this week for intervention by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, saying he did not expect there to be justice for the shooting victim and his family “if the St. Louis County police and prosecutor have a say.”

Clay told Bloomberg that Nixon had finally realized the St. Louis Couny police were “not going to do the right thing.”

The Justice Department opened an investigation into the Brown shooting on Monday, according to a White House spokesman.

The FBI is an investigative organization; there has been no word on what group will replace the St. Louis County police on the streets of Ferguson.

“Given the track record of the last couple days, any outside accountability and oversight of the Ferguson police is a positive development, said Lee Rowland, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU filed suit on Thursday in St. Louis County to make public copies of police reports surrounding the Brown shooting. The ACLU said such incident reports are open records, and withholding them is a violation under Missouri law.

Criticism has increased through the week, leveled at both the actions of the police in Ferguson and the apparent inaction of elected officials at the county and state level.

Obama: 'No excuse'

Speaking from Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Thursday, President Barack Obama said he had been briefed on the situation in Ferguson and had already asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to “independently investigate the death of Michael Brown.” The president said he had spoken with Governor Nixon to express his concern over the events of the last five days.

Obama added that it was “important to remember how this started.”

“We lost a young man under tragic circumstances,” said Obama.

The president specifically referenced the actions of the police in Ferguson. “There is no excuse for police to use excessive force,” Obama said, “or to throw people in jail” for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Referencing the Wednesday detentions in Ferguson of reporters from the Washington Post and Huffington Post, Obama also said “police should not be bullying or arresting journalists” who were simply doing their jobs and reporting on area events.

“We should hold ourselves to a higher standard,” the president said.

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