Some of Missouri’s top leaders tried unsuccessfully to pressure Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson to resign after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, interviews with several elected officials and newly released records show.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III told The Associated Press on Friday that top state officials had several meetings where they applied pressure on the city to force Jackson to resign. Missouri House Speaker John Diehl and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill confirmed they both attended a fall meeting to discuss whether Jackson should be forced out.
Also, records provided to AP under an open records request include a Nov. 10 email from St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar to an assistant that describes an apparent meeting of state and local officials. It references the potential timing of Jackson’s “separation” and identifies a potential successor.
Brown, 18 and unarmed, was shot by officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, and the shooting of a black suspect by a white officer led to significant unrest in St. Louis County.
Jackson’s leadership drew wide criticism from the outset, both for the aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency’s erratic and infrequent releases of key information. He refused to publicly identify Wilson as the shooter for nearly a week after Brown’s death, then simultaneously released the name with store security video that police said showed Brown stealing a box of cigars and shoving a clerk a short time before his death.
The unrest in St. Louis County escalated after the Nov. 24 announcement that a grand jury declined to indict Wilson, who later resigned.
Knowles on Friday refused to name any of the officials who urged Jackson’s removal.
“I was at a lot of meetings where that was brought up,” Knowles said. “There were different people advocating for the chief to be fired or quit or whatever. I want to make it clear: We never considered that.”
A message left with Jackson was not returned.
McCaskill confirmed in a written statement that she attended such a meeting — one of many involving community leaders, elected officials and members of law enforcement, the statement said.
“And a variety of issues were discussed to help ease tension in the St. Louis region, and address systemic issues highlighted in Ferguson-issues including personnel changes at the Ferguson police department,” the statement said.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and his chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, attended several such meetings, Rainford said.
Diehl said he participated in two meetings — one in Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office in St. Louis — in which officials discussed efforts to try to get both Jackson and Wilson to resign. Diehl said the meetings occurred around the time of the Nov. 4 elections and he disagreed with the attempts to seek their resignations, because the grand jury process was ongoing.
“A substantial part of the conversation centered around trying to get Darren Wilson to resign prior to the decision of the grand jury and to get Chief Jackson to resign, and I didn’t have any interest in participating in that,” Diehl, a Republican from the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country, said.
Diehl said Jackson’s resignation would have left “a leadership vacuum” on the police force and “I didn’t think it was proper for someone in my position to get involved.”
The email from Belmar has the subject line, “Ferguson Chief Jackson Meeting,” and the text is written in note form. At one point it indicates that a St. Louis County police lieutenant colonel named Doyle “will become the ranking officer of the FPD.” Doyle’s first name isn’t given, but Troy Doyle is a lieutenant colonel for the county.
The email lists several names of apparent attendees: McCaskill, Koster, Slay, Rainford, Diehl, Doyle, then-St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay.
Spokespeople for Clay and Koster declined comment, and messages seeking comment from Dooley and St. Louis County police were not returned.
The email also made reference to a request to Gov. Jay Nixon to place the National Guard in front of Ferguson police headquarters on the date of the grand jury announcement. “Apparently the guard will not move to the FPD per the governor,” the email said.
Knowles and others were critical of the decision not to have the Guard in place at the time of the announcement, after a dozen area businesses were destroyed in fires during protests.
Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri.
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