Holder arrives in Ferguson amid demands for new prosecutor

Aug 20, 2014 3:02 PM by News Staff

CLAYTON, Missouri - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is meeting with college students as part of his trip to Missouri stemming from a white police officer's fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.

Holder made his first stop Wednesday at the Florissant campus of St. Louis Community College, a few miles from the suburb of Ferguson where Michael Brown was shot Aug. 9.

Student Kiyanda Welch says Holder talked to students about the unrest and their own interaction with police. Holder told the group "change is coming," Welch said.

The Attorney General arrived in St. Louis shortly before 11 a.m. CST Wednesday, along with several Justice Department officials including members of its Civil Rights division.

Holder also was expected to meet with FBI agents and others involved in the independent federal investigation into Brown's death. Already about 40 FBI agents and prosecutors from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division have been in town conducting the investigation and interviewing hundreds of people. An independent federal autopsy was also conducted by Holder's order.

Meanwhile, a group of about two dozen protesters gathered outside a building where a grand jury could begin a hearing to determine whether to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. County prosecutor spokesman Ed Magee said Wednesday that there is no timeline for how long the process could take, but it could be weeks.

Protesters gathered in a circle outside the St. Louis County Justice Center in Clayton for a prayer, chanted, and held signs urging prosecutor Bob McCulloch to step aside. Nearly two dozen officers guarded the building's main entrance, which also was blocked off with yellow police tape.

McCulloch's deep family connections to police have been cited by some black leaders who question his ability to be impartial in the case. McCulloch's father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St. Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.

McCulloch, who is white, has insisted his background will have no bearing on the handling of the Brown case. On Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said he would not seek McCulloch's removal from the case, citing the "well-established process" by which prosecutors can recuse themselves from pending investigations to make way for a special prosecutor.

Ahead of his trip to Ferguson, Holder wrote a letter to the people there, which appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that pledged a thorough probe in to the Michael Brown case, but also condemned the violence that has taken place over the past 10 days.

"We understand the need for an independent investigation, and we hope that the independence and thoroughness of our investigation will bring some measure of calm to the tensions in Ferguson," Holder wrote. "In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson.

"Although these acts have been committed by a very small minority -- and, in many cases, by individuals from outside Ferguson -- they seriously undermine, rather than advance, the cause of justice."

Meanwhile, protests were more subdued Tuesday night, with smaller crowds, fewer confrontations and no tear gas. Police said they still made 47 arrests, but mainly of people who defied orders to disperse. Three handguns were confiscated from demonstrators.

Tensions rose briefly when someone hurled a bottle at officers, but there were no reports of gunfire or the clashes that had marked previous nights.

Brown's funeral arrangements were set. The Austin A. Layne Mortuary, which is handling arrangements, said the funeral will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church. Brown's uncle, the Rev. Charles Ewing, will deliver the eulogy, and the Rev. Al Sharpton will also speak.

Brown's remains will be buried at St. Peter's Cemetery in St. Louis County.

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