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Ferguson, Mo., police chief defends officers, says he understands community’s frustration

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson speaks during a news conference at police headquarters in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 13. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)
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FERGUSON, Mo. — Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said he was driving with his kids on his way to lunch Saturday afternoon when a sergeant called him.

“He said there has been an officer involved shooting with one of your officers. And the other person is dead,” Jackson said. “I said: I’m on my way.”

Jackson said he made a u-turn, headed to the scene and, in the meantime, called the chief of the St. Louis County police and asked him to take jurisdiction.

“I get a call that says there’s an officer involved in a shooting and the other person is dead, do I want to investigate that, how’s that going to appear in the community?”

But now Jackson faces scrutiny and outrage from a population that desperately wants answers – How many times was Michael Brown shot? Why did the officer stop Brown in the first place? Why was lethal force justified? – that he is incapable of providing. Because he handed over control of the investigation, he said, he does not even know those answers himself.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “And I understand the frustration of the community. I get it. I get it.”

What Jackson could clarify, however, is that there is no dashcam video of the shooting of the unarmed, 18-year-old  Brown. The department does not have cameras in its 18 cruisers. They received a Department of Justice grant this year for two dash cams and two officer cameras – but the dash cams have not yet been installed.

Robert P. McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, also declined during a separate news conference to say how many times Brown was shot.

“We want to test the veracity and accuracy of anybody who comes to us with a statement and says they saw something,” McCulloch said.

McCulloch promised a thorough investigation, vowing to talk to “anybody and everybody who has anything to say about this.” But he would not say how long the investigation could take.

“The timeline on this is there is no timeline,” he said.

Jackson said that the department will likely scale down the show of force at the nightly protests, which have been met by police in riot gear firing tear gas and rubber bullets. But he defended the actions by saying that he believes things have been handled well,  for the most part.

At an afternoon news conference, State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who has been leading protests and a fixture in the community this week, confronted him.

“I just want to know if I’m going to be gassed again,” she said.

“I hope not,” Jackson responded.

“I hope not either,” she added, later telling this reporter: “He blew me off.”

While Jackson defends his record on diversity (noting that he promoted the first two black superintendents in department history) and the actions of his officers during protests each of the last three nights (“Nobody has gotten hurt though,” Jackson said, moving his hand to make the point. “Not even during the riots.”) many residents disagree.

“They’re agitating the situation,” said Anthony Ross, 26, who lives nearby and says that the relationship between local residents and police is nonexistent. “For years it’s always been very hostile,” Ross said. “Everybody in this community. Everybody in this city has been a victim of DWB (driving while black).”

Protesters have camped out at the police station nearly constantly since the shooting, holding signs that read “Guns down for Mike Brown.”

“People here are angry, frustrated. There needs to be justice,” said Corey Crawford, 36. “If you can find a single person in this community who trusts the police, that is like finding a four-leafed clover.”

Mark Berman contributed to this report.