News Column

Eric Holder Arrives in Ferguson

August 20, 2014

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Attorney General Eric Holder landed in Ferguson, Mo., Wednesday afternoon as a grand jury was expected to hear evidence in the case against Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown.

On his way to meet with law enforcement officers and federal investigators working the case, Holder stopped to speak with students at the Florissant campus of St. Louis Community College, reassuring them that "change is coming" to Ferguson.

The racial divisions in the St. Louis suburb, which is more than two-thirds black, have been thrust into the spotlight since Brown, 18, was shot on August 9. In addition to frustrations over actions of the mostly white police force in 11 days of protests, residents worry the investigation won't be conducted fairly and without bias.

In a column posted on the St. Louis Dispatch, Holder promised federal oversight would ensure the truth comes out.

"At a time when so much may seem uncertain, the people of Ferguson can have confidence that the Justice Department intends to learn -- in a fair and thorough manner -- exactly what happened," he wrote.

"This is my pledge to the people of Ferguson: Our investigation into this matter will be full, it will be fair, and it will be independent," he said. "And beyond the investigation itself, we will work with the police, civil rights leaders, and members of the public to ensure that this tragedy can give rise to new understanding -- and robust action -- aimed at bridging persistent gaps between law enforcement officials and the communities we serve."

County Prosecutor Bob McCullough has so far refused to recuse himself from the case, despite calls to do so over deep family connections to the police, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Tuesday he won't force him to do so.

McCullough's father, an officer with the St. Louis Police Department, was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect, and his mother, brother, uncle and cousin also worked for the SLPD.

But the prosecutor has insisted his personal history won't affect his ability to fairly handle the case. He said the grand jury would begin receiving evidence in secret Wednesday, and it may take as long as mid-October for all of the evidence to be presented.

"I certainly understand the concern, but we won't rush it through," McCulloch said. "In the long run, people, at least a majority of people, will appreciate the thoroughness."

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Original headline: Holder arrives in Ferguson, grand jury hears testimony


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