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LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEE NOW INVESTIGATING RESPONSE TO VIOLENCE, DESTRUCTION
by Sharon Rondeau
(Jan. 29, 2015) — On Tuesday, The Post & Email contacted by phone the office of Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder regarding a Sunshine Law request placed on January 1, 2015 and again on January 16 which had not received a response.
We then received a telephone reply from an official who explained that a change in personnel effective January 1 had precipitated the office’s lack of response to that time. He also stated that Kinder’s office has “no responsive records” relating to our request for records of phone calls and emails exchanged between Gov. Jay Nixon‘s office and anyone in the White House during the month of November.
Understanding that Kinder and Nixon are of different political parties and do not work together, The Post & Email had submitted the request to Kinder following its receipt of documents generated by the same request directed to Nixon’s office on November 29, 2014.
In response, Nixon’s assistant had sent us 20 pages of documents containing emails between Nixon’s office and the White House. However, none related to the communications alleged by Principal Deputy White House Press Secretary Eric Schultz to have occurred between White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Nixon personally in the weeks leading up to the St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict former Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown on August 9.
Nixon had ordered the National Guard to Ferguson to quell the looting, destruction, fires, and murder which erupted after Brown’s death. As conditions escalated, the Missouri Highway Patrol, or state police, assumed responsibility for law enforcement, after which it was criticized for a heavy-handed approach. A lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleging violation of peaceful protesters’ First Amendment rights was ruled upon favorably by federal Judge Catherine Perry.
With the knowledge that the grand jury’s decision would be forthcoming, Nixon placed the National Guard on notice in mid-August and declared a state of emergency on November 17. However, on the evening of November 24, when St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCullough stated the decision during a press conference, no National Guard troops were stationed in Ferguson.
Gunshots were fired; an elderly man on oxygen was carjacked and left injured in the road; businesses were burned; and bottles thrown at the Ferguson police station while Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III attempted to reach Nixon and other officials to request National Guard protection which ultimately was not forthcoming.
Police in Ferguson used smoke canisters and trucks to force waves of violent protesters down the street away from the police building soon after sporadic gunshots were heard. Flames from a burning car rose into the night sky…
But the National Guard was not deployed in Ferguson that evening. On December 5, The St. Louis Business Journal reported that “Protests following the announcement that a grand jury had declined to indict then Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown were punctuated by the looting and burning of businesses in Ferguson and nearby Dellwood. National Guard troops weren’t brought into Ferguson until after much of the damage had been done.”
Nixon had prided the response of his office following the grand jury announcement, stating that there was no loss of life. “You didn’t want to have a Kent State situation,” Nixon had told a local television station, referring to the May 4, 1970 killings of four Kent State University students involved in anti-Vietnam War protests by the Ohio National Guard. Nine others were injured in the altercation.
The website OhioHistoryCentral reports that the National Guard was called in to Kent State after a May 1 war protest resulted in “rocks and bottles being thrown at police officers, the closure of bars by authorities before normal closing time to reduce alcohol consumption, and the lighting of bonfires. Eventually students, other anti-war activists, and common criminals began to break windows and loot stores.”
Two weeks after the Ferguson grand jury announcement and its accompanying violence, the Knowles and the mayor of Dellwood had not yet been able to speak with Nixon.
On November 25, in an interview with Fox News’s Martha MacCallum, Kinder said that he believed Nixon had given a “stand-down” order to the Guard to stay out of Ferguson while deploying its members to other nearby locations. Kinder had vowed to attempt to obtain any emails and phone call records exchanged between Nixon’s office and the White House, which Kinder said he suspected as having influenced Nixon’s alleged decision.
He warned that the destruction of emails was a criminal act. He also questioned the timing of the release of the decision, which occurred at 8:00 a.m. CST. He described the National Guard as having been “kept away.”
In an interview on the Jamie Allman show on January 23, Kinder stated that an email sent by St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar mentioned in passing in a January 9 story by The Associated Press appeared to confirm that Nixon had ordered the National Guard not to patrol the Ferguson police station. Allman told Kinder that the television station for which he works had received an email from Nixon’s office confirming that fact, but not admitting to restraining the Guard from anywhere else in Ferguson.
Belmar took office on January 31, 2015.
As stated on Allman’s radio show, a legislative committee has been launched to investigate the government’s response to events in Ferguson beginning on the evening of November 24, 2014. The official from Kinder’s office informed us that the committee is headed by State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who represents Missouri’s 19th district.
Schaefer’s website indicates that on December 11, the Joint Committee on Government Accountability held its first meeting on the Ferguson response. Established by state statute in 2004, the committee’s purpose is “to look for inefficiencies and misconduct in state government.” Over the past decade it was not empaneled until the December 11 initial meeting.
On Thursday morning, The Post & Email contacted Linda Bushman, the contact person for the committee, who told us that the December meeting was “organizational” and that the date for a second meeting date has not yet been set.