By David A. Leib
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — St. Louis area authorities planning for a grand jury announcement had proposed stationing Missouri National Guard troops and armored Humvees in a Ferguson neighborhood where Michael Brown had been shot by a policeman, according to records released Tuesday detailing the state’s preparations.
The Guard wasn’t preemptively deployed to Ferguson’s most troubled spots, however, because Gov. Jay Nixon preferred to place police on the front lines for the Nov. 24 announcement that Darren Wilson, a white officer, wouldn’t be charged for killing the unarmed black 18-year-old.
Protesters upset by the decision looted stores and set fire to businesses and vehicles as images of the destruction were televised nationwide. Some residents, local officials and state legislators have since questioned why Nixon didn’t more quickly deploy the Guard to those areas.
Nixon’s office provided hundreds of pages of documents to The Associated Press on Tuesday in response to an open records request that had been pending since early December. Some of the materials also were given to a legislative committee that has been holding hearings on Nixon’s use of the Guard.
The records show that security planning began long before the grand jury announcement, as officials sought to avoid a repeat of the sometimes violent protests that occurred after Brown was shot Aug. 9. Police were widely criticized at that time for taking a “militarized” approach in confronting protesters.
On Oct. 10, the Guard sent Nixon’s office a presentation outlining its potential use. Among other things, it noted that the Guard could be mobilized early to reduce the potential of the president deploying troops, and it said up to 1,500 security forces could be staged in the St. Louis area on the day of the grand jury decision.
Nixon met Oct. 30 in St. Louis County with leaders from the Guard, Missouri State Highway Patrol and local police as they began developing more detailed plans, the Missouri National Guard’s top official, Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner, said Tuesday.
A few days later, the State Highway Patrol met with police from St. Louis city and county about specific locations where the Guard could be used. The police sought Guard protection at numerous government buildings, including fire stations, as well as at various businesses, according to memos provided to Nixon’s office.
A Nov. 13 patrol memo said that St. Louis County police sought to use Guard troops at the Canfield Green apartments, near where Brown had been shot, and along West Florissant Avenue, which had been the focal point of prior protests and looting. The memo said county police also sought the Guard’s protection at the Ferguson Police Department but were told that probably wasn’t possible.
A St. Louis County police spokesman did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
An internal National Guard memo, dated Nov. 18, said the proposal to send eight armored Humvees and 64 soldiers to the Canfield Green apartments “does not appear to meet Governor’s intent for initial National Guard use.” The memo also recommended against using 120 soldiers, six Guard Humvees and four buses at traffic-control points on West Florissant Avenue.
Maj. Bret Johnson, who commands the Highway Patrol’s field operations, said Tuesday that St. Louis Police Chief Jon Belmar ultimately decided against an enhanced law enforcement presence in those Ferguson neighborhoods.
Had the county pressed ahead with its request, “I think since they were traffic-control points, I probably would have made a recommendation that the Guard fulfill those missions,” Johnson said.
But generally, “the plan was not to put soldiers on front-line areas where protests were previously and where we anticipated (protests) would occur,” he said.
A Nov. 18 email from Missouri Army National Guard Chief of Staff Col. Dave Boyle to colleagues said the Guard was planning for a “lower profile, less confrontation” mission that would emphasize its support role and “minimize public militarization perception.”
Nixon has said that he wanted to avoid situations in which soldiers might point guns at — and potentially shoot — American citizens. He has noted that no one was killed in the Nov. 24 riots, even though many buildings were burned and vandalized.
“I think when people look back on this, they will appreciate that we showed an incredible amount of discipline,” Nixon told reporters last week.