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Grand jury to decide on Ferguson officer charges

A Missouri grand jury could begin hearing evidence as soon as Wednesday to determine whether any charges should be filed against a white suburban police officer who fatally shot unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown.State prosecutors are wading through contradictory narratives as they decide which account to present. Federal authorities also could take legal action against Officer Darren Wilson, especially if they decide their state counterparts are drawing the wrong conclusions.
/ Source: wpxi.com

A Missouri grand jury could begin hearing evidence as soon as Wednesday to determine whether any charges should be filed against a white suburban police officer who fatally shot unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown.

State prosecutors are wading through contradictory narratives as they decide which account to present. Federal authorities also could take legal action against Officer Darren Wilson, especially if they decide their state counterparts are drawing the wrong conclusions.

They've lined the streets with police in riot gear, brought in a new commander with an empathetic manner, imposed a curfew, lifted it and deployed the National Guard — and still the violence erupts nightly in the town of FergusonAfter nine days of unrest following the fatal police shooting, law enforcement and political leaders are left struggling for answers to a frustrating question: What can we do to restore peace to the community?

"It's the question of the week, the month and the year: How do you bring this to a conclusion?" asked Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer and criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

One answer, Nolan said, rests with the police, who should take the initiative to meet with non-violent protesters, pledge to scale back some of the more military-style methods of crowd control, such as sound cannons, and increase the recruitment of black police officers — something the city said it plans to address. Only three members of Ferguson's 53-person force are black, even though about two-thirds of the residents are black.

"If the police keep showing up every night in force with a military presence, these protesters are going to keep showing up," Nolan said. "Something has got to give. ... Police are trained not to back down. I think they need to reimagine this and realize their responsibility ultimately is public safety and not to save face. If it takes making some concessions and meeting people they're not enthusiastic about meeting with — that's what needs to be done. If not, who can say how long this goes on?"

On Tuesday, Ferguson officials released a statement, saying they plan to "learn from this tragedy" and vowed to take steps that could increase the number of black applicants to the police department and offer incentives to encourage city residency for police offers.

The statement also urged residents to remain home at night Tuesday to "allow peace to settle in," following Monday's street demonstrations that once again turned violent. The trouble began after dark when some protesters resisted police orders to disperse.

Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who is overseeing security in Ferguson, said Molotov cocktails and bottles were thrown from the crowd and some officers came under heavy gunfire. Two fires also were set.

"These are not acts of protesters but acts of violent criminals," Johnson said at a news briefing where he also announced two people had been shot. Police fired tear gas, threw flash grenades and deployed noisemakers to repel the crowds.

It was the first night the National Guard was on the scene, though soldiers kept their distance from the streets. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who lifted the midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew he'd imposed two days earlier, deployed the Guard for a "limited mission" to restore calm. Ferguson's violence, looting and vandalism have been sparked by the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Brown by a white police officer.

Johnson also noted in his briefing that some of those arrested have come from out of state and said agitators intent on creating havoc are hiding among the crowds of peaceful demonstrators.

Meantime, a large crowd, some chanting "Hands up, don't shoot," gathered Tuesday at the site where St. Louis police officers shot and killed a knife-wielding man after a reported convenience store robbery.

The shooting happened just a few miles from Ferguson, where the fatal shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old, Michael Brown, by a white police officer has touched off days of sometimes violent protests. The crowd had largely diminished within several hours of the shooting.

St. Louis Police Capt. Ed Kuntz said police responded shortly after noon following a report of a robbery at a convenience store. The suspect, a 23-year-old black man, refused police orders to drop the knife, Kuntz said.

When the man allegedly raised the weapon and moved toward the officers, both opened fire, killing him, said Kuntz.

Police Chief Sam Dotson said the man was acting erratically and told officers to "shoot me now, kill me now."

A man who said he witnessed the shooting, Robert Addison, 36, said the suspect cursed officers as he told them, "You'll have to kill me."

Both officers were placed on administrative duty pending an investigation, but Kuntz said the shooting appeared to be justified.

A crowd of about 100 onlookers gathered at the site within an hour of the shooting. Some chanted "Hands up, don't shoot," which has become the mantra of protesters in Ferguson after witnesses described Brown as having his hands in the air when he was shot Aug. 9.

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