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THE SITUATION ROOM
Ferguson Grand Jury Reaches Decision; Live News Conference by Missouri Governor;
Aired November 24, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And we're standing by for a news conference by the Missouri governor.
Bracing for violence. Officials say they're prepared for all possibilities and law enforcement is standing by in case appeals for calm go unheeded.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news.
At any moment, we will be learning whether the Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson has been indicted in the August shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager. After months of protests, there's a sense of relief in Ferguson, where many people just want this ordeal over. But there's also very real fear if the grand jury has decided not to indict Wilson, there will be a violent backlash. We will know the answer to all of that very soon.
We're covering the breaking news with our correspondents, our guests. They're in key locations in Ferguson and beyond and we're also awaiting a the news conference by the Missouri governor.
Our national correspondent Jason Carroll begins our coverage this hour.
Jason, what are you seeing in Ferguson right now?
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, the grand jury meeting for more than three months going over evidence, listening to eyewitness testimony. So many people in this community waiting to hear the grand jury's decision.
We in an area of Ferguson right along West Florissant. This is an area so familiar to people who have been following this story. This is where we saw so much of that unrest in August. Many of the buildings here and the businesses here have been boarded up and they have boarded up for months in anticipation of the grand jury decision.
I heard you say something, Wolf, saying that so many people out here want this to be over. They do, they want justice, but they also want this whole ordeal to be over. And in fact just within the past hour or so, Antonio French, a local alderman, he was caught up in many of the unrest during August. He tweeted something. He said, pray for peace. Work for justice. Push for change.
So these are -- he's one of the local community members, like so many here on the ground, calling for peace, calling for change. As you know, Michael Brown's parents, his father just within the past few days recording a public service announcement, calling for people to be nonviolent in their protests. The only hope now is that those people are listening -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We know the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, he's about to hold a news conference announcing steps that they're taking. Do you see evidence there of National Guard? He's activated National Guard. He's also declared an emergency. What are you seeing in terms of local, state, federal law enforcement on the streets of Ferguson?
CARROLL: Let me just -- first of all, let me just give you a sense of what it looks like out here on the street now. It just looks as if any other day here that we have here on West Florissant. Basically traffic is moving in and out. Take a look up the street here, you can see traffic moving in and out. No road closures, like we saw here in the past, no police presence along here on West Florissant.
And again, speaking to law enforcement in the many weeks leading up to this, what they're going to try to do is measure their responses. as you know, Wolf, they were so heavily criticized for their response last time. This go-around, they're going to measure their response in terms of how they deal with how demonstrators, how they deal with protesters.
And in terms of what we're seeing out here right now on West Florissant, peaceful, no demonstrators out here right now. Traffic is flowing. No sense of law enforcement, at least not at this point -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jason Carroll, we will check back with you.
I want to bring in our justice reporter, Evan Perez. He's in Ferguson as well.
Evan, you broke the story earlier today that the grand jury has reached a decision. Walk us through what you're hearing right now as far as when the announcement will be made, precisely who has been notified already. Are the family members, for example, Michael Brown's family members, are they getting word of what the decision is?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they have not been notified of what exactly the decision is.
They do know that the decision was reached, obviously, and we reported that earlier. We know that behind the scenes, there's quite a few things that are still going on. The judge who oversees the case is being notified. There's a procedure in place right now where the prosecutor wants to release some of the documents or rather all of the documents, all the evidence that was presented to the grand jury. That was the plan. And that process is now in the works, we're told.
We are told that the prosecutor here, the Saint Louis County prosecutor, is planning a press conference. The latest we heard is 8:00 p.m. Central time is what the timing is right now.
We will wait to see where exactly that will take place. For security reasons, they did not want to announce that, Wolf. We also know if there was an indictment that, by now, Darren Wilson's attorneys would have been notified that he should turn himself in. They would be making those arrangements. We have been checking. No word on whether that has occurred, whether that is in the works.
But we also know that Darren Wilson had been in negotiations, Wolf, that he would resigned if he was cleared by the grand jury. That is something that also we're checking on, because he wanted to do that once word came from the grand jury that he was in the clear -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will be speaking momentarily with a friend of Darren Wilson. We will get word on whether or not he's been notified of any of this. Stand by that for that, Evan. Good work.
This grand jury decision which could be announced literally at any time comes after more than 10 weeks of near daily protests.
CNN's Jake Tapper has more on the fear and tension about what happens next.
Jake, what's the latest from your vantage point?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we visited Ferguson and the surrounding area today. We met a lot of people who were concerned about the verdict. We met people who were concerned about a possible violent reaction to the verdict.
And we met people who were concerned about a possible police overreaction to the violence.
TAPPER (voice-over): A city on edge. It's cliche, but it seems almost too quiet here. Boarded-up shop windows line the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and in nearby Clayton, Missouri, much the same, as if a hurricane is headed here. Here, a grand jury decision is about to be announced determining the fate of officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown.
Sporadic protests have continued here since August. Even last night, protesters bloodied an out-of-town reporter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not feeling woozy or anything. I think I will make it.
TAPPER: There are those worried about whether justice will be served and those worried that their livelihoods will be destroyed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't want to have to go through what we went through last time.
TAPPER: Jim Lalonee (ph) and his dad own this convenience store not far from the protest site in August. Their store was looted twice this summer. Over the summer, they showed us this surveillance footage of looters kicking and shooting out windows, breaking in, stealing things, then trying to set the store on fire.
(on camera): You were thinking about, we're going to shut it down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we had a lot of conversations back and forth, my dad and I. We wanted to stay open, see, because we have been here for so long. And my dad didn't want to just throw everything on the floor.
TAPPER (voice-over): The plywood is now back up on the windows, even though that means business drops off up to 40 percent. Like everyone here, they're waiting to see what will happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as we know what's going to happen, I'm just going to close down the store and hope for the authorities to take care of whatever is going to happen outside.
TAPPER: At the Canfield apartments where Mike Brown was shot and killed, a memorial to him has grown. The dolls are by now wet and disheveled and sad. Here, his former neighbors are waiting and hopeful there will not be a repeat of what they saw this summer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kind of difficult of getting in here when all that took place. But I'm prepared for it as if I can't get into where I live.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're keeping a positive thought on everything.
TAPPER: Just blocks away, the businesses that the residents of the Canfield Apartments frequent, they're on edge.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are small business people that really live on the edge. Many of them are on the breaking point from the last go- round and the last thing they need is more violence.
TAPPER: Jake Kansler (ph) is a lawyer representing many of the businesses here that were targeted last time. Owners are reluctant to talk to the media today, for fear they will become targets for looters and vandals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people here, the true residents know that when this is all over with, when it's said and done, they have to come back here and live here. They don't want it destroyed.
I think it's some of the outside folks that have come and said, they don't care. They're going to go home to wherever it is they live and leave this behind once they have had their 15 minutes of fame.
TAPPER: Wolf, all we can do now is wait to see what the actual decision is by the grand jury and then, of course, report on how the people in Ferguson and surrounding area respond to that decision by the grand jury -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Where you are, Jake, are people gathering already or is it relatively quiet?
TAPPER: I'm in Clayton, Missouri, where the county seat is, where the grand jury would meet, and there is no presence right now in terms of protesters. I'm not really sure where the protests are going to begin if and when they do, although we have been some guidance that there will definitely be some protests in Ferguson should the verdict or the decision come back this evening, the announcement this evening -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're standing by for that decision to be announced. Jake, thank you.
As we await the grand jury decision and a news conference expected momentarily by the Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, we want to hear from a friend of the police officer in question right now, Darren Wilson.
Jeff Roorda is a state lawmaker. He works for the Saint Louis Police Officers Association.
Jeff, thanks very much for joining us. We spoke with you on Friday as well.
Have you been in touch with Darren Wilson, the police officer, today?
JEFF ROORDA (D), MISSOURI STATE REPRESENTATIVE: No, not since last week, Wolf.
BLITZER: So you don't know if he's actually been notified of a decision?
ROORDA: I do not, no.
BLITZER: Based on what you do know, if he's about to be indicted, he would be told, he and his lawyers would have been told by now, presumably. Is that your understanding?
ROORDA: That's right. You know, the charity that I'm involved with, the police charity that's helping officer Wilson with his legal expenses, we would be prepared to post bond for him if he were indicted.
So if that's the case, and I don't expect it will be, but if that were the case, we would be hearing something soon in the way of making arrangements for bond.
BLITZER: His lawyers have not been in touch for the charity or you so far, right?
ROORDA: That's right.
BLITZER: But we shouldn't necessarily read anything into that one way or the other, right?
ROORDA: No, I wouldn't, Wolf. I would think that that would be a conversation that happened after he would surrender himself.
Again, I'm telling you this is just Jeff Roorda speaking, but I would be shocked based on what I know of the evidence that's publicly available if Darren were to be indicted.
BLITZER: Even for a lesser charge, let's say involuntary manslaughter?
ROORDA: I just don't think that the forensics and the ballistics and the physical evidence support that.
Again, we don't know what the grand jury knows. Bob McCulloch went to great lengths to make sure that every shred of evidence was before them. If there's an outcome from the grand jury that's unexpected to me, I will calmly review the documents as they're made public. I hope that's what everyone will do in this case, calmly take in the evidence that the prosecutor presented to the grand jury and that they ruminated on and calmly reflect on what they know.
BLITZER: Bob McCulloch is the Saint Louis County prosecutor in this particular case.
I ask the question because there were several eyewitnesses who said that he was standing outside of the vehicle, he was standing outside of the car with his hands up when he was shot. So why would you be shocked if he were indicted, even for let's say involuntary manslaughter?
ROORDA: I just don't think that the physical evidence as we have seen it repeatedly presented in the media and elsewhere is consistent with those statements.
I mean, eyewitness statements can be flawed. That's why law enforcement doesn't depend exclusively on those. We depend on physical evidence in combination with witness statements to tell us what actually happened. That's why it's so important that we not get out ahead of ourselves. This case is a comedy of errors when it comes to the reaction coming in advance of the facts.
BLITZER: Mr. Roorda, Jeff Roorda, I want you to stand by, because on the line right now is Ben Crump. He's one of the lawyers for the Michael Brown family.
Mr. Crump, thanks very much for joining us. I know you have been in touch with Michael Brown's parents, family members, other attorneys. Have they been notified what the grand jury decision is yet?
BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF MICHAEL BROWN: We have not been notified what the decision is, Wolf. We are waiting to hear from the prosecutor's office.
BLITZER: Do you expect to get word in advance of a public announcement? CRUMP: Well, that's what they told us, they're going to give it to us
before they announce it publicly, so we will wait to see. We were to get notice of a decision. However, it apparently was leaked to the media before it was told tot family.
BLITZER: When you say that, how did you learn that a decision had been reached?
CRUMP: Well, unfortunately, Michael Brown's parents found out that a decision was pending today from the media.
And then they were notified later by the prosecutor's office that there is a decision coming today. And it was very painful, Wolf, on top of everything else that they're dealing with.
BLITZER: So just to be precise, the media, I think we were first here on CNN, Evan Perez, our reporter there in Ferguson, in Clayton, he reported it, and then everybody else confirmed it. And only then did the prosecutor's office notify the family that a decision had been reached, is that right?
CRUMP: That's correct.
BLITZER: So that was painful to the family because they would have wanted to know that in advance. Whoever called, was it Mr. McCulloch, was it somebody else who called from his office?
CRUMP: It was a representative from his office.
BLITZER: Did they assure the family that before the decision is announced publicly, they would get word of it?
CRUMP: That's what they said, yes.
BLITZER: But you don't believe it? Is that what you're suggesting?
CRUMP: Well, you know, I will take it at face value. If they say it, we're going to take them at their word.
BLITZER: How is the family dealing with all of this?
CRUMP: It's very emotional. They're on pins and needles wanting to know if the man who killed their unarmed child is going to be held accountable, if they even have a chance at justice or if it's going to be no indictment and it's likely that the killer of their unarmed teenager would never be held accountable.
So it's very emotional for them, as it would be for every other parent. Not only the parents, but the family and the extended community in Ferguson are all on pins and needles are wanting to know if again the system is going to, you know, not hold the killer of our children accountable.
BLITZER: If there's no indictment, there are other steps, legal steps, you're a lawyer, a well-known lawyer, that you could take. You could file a lawsuit. And the federal government, and the Justice Department here in Washington, they could file a civil rights lawsuit if Michael Brown's civil rights were violated. Those would be two other steps that would be potentially out there, right?
CRUMP: Wolf, as you know, you have been in the journalist business for a long time, and you know, as a journalist, that it's a very high burden for the federal government when they bring civil rights actions against police officers.
So they know the most likely chance of having the killer of their child held accountable is going to be what happens in the state of Missouri. Certainly they have the civil action that they can bring to give them some sense of justice. But why can't we ever get full justice? And that's the troubling thing about it.
No police officer is hardly ever held accountable when they kill young people of color. And we have to do something about this epidemic.
BLITZER: I know you want some charge, some indictment to be filed. But from your vantage point, and obviously none of us knows the exact evidence that was presented to the grand jury, only those 12 members of the grand jury know, and the Saint Louis County prosecutor knows, but based on what you know, do you believe first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary -- involuntary manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, what would be from your perspective a fair indictment?
CRUMP: I think based on the evidence they have, the prosecutor could charge with whatever he wanted to charge based on the probable cause standard, which is such a low standard.
We have all accepted that when a police officer kills a citizen, it automatically goes to a grand jury. And that's now how the Constitution speaks to it. It speaks to this notion of due process, everybody gets equal treatment of the law in legal proceedings. They don't make a distinction for police officers. And clearly there is far more evidence to have probable cause in this case.
The rules just changed. If the rules were reversed and Michael Brown had killed this police officer, do you think we would have a grand jury or they would just charge him? So we have to really try to educate people and say we can't let the system keep going like this, because we're going to get the same results. If we keep doing the same thing and expect something different, that's insanity.
We are tired of police officers killing young people of color and nobody ever being held accountable.
BLITZER: You're right about a grand jury, it is probable cause, as opposed to beyond a reasonable doubt.
Very quickly, Mr. Crump, probable cause for manslaughter or probable cause for murder?
CRUMP: Either one. You know, the prosecutor normally would come out and recommend charges. But this process has been done differently than any other process I have ever seen in my 20 years of practice in law that he's not going to recommend any charges. It's just the jury make up their mind what they feel like because he wants to be fair, as he said.
So that does take it. For 28 years, when he presented stuff to the grand jury, he was unfair to everybody else. Don't change the rules when it's our children killed. We want equal justice. You recommend charges when there's probable cause. You do it. If there's not, you don't. But don't change the rules on us.
BLITZER: Benjamin Crump, I'm going to have you stand by. I want to continue our conversation. Jeff Roorda, I want to conversation our conversation with you as well. We have got to take a quick break. Much more on the breaking news coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, an announcement soon in the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting.
We're about to learn whether the police officer Darren Wilson will be charged in the death of the unarmed African-American teenager. The Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, he is about to hold a news conference. We're going to have coverage of that as soon as it begins. You're looking at live pictures coming out of Missouri right now.
In the meantime, let's continue our conversation with Jeff Roorda, and he's a friend of the police officer Darren Wilson. He's also a state lawmaker. he works for the Saint Louis Police Officers Association.
Jeff, you're confident that the police officer won't be indicted. Once again, walk us through why you believe that.
ROORDA: First of all, Wolf, let me say this.
Nothing I say or nothing any police officer says is meant to contribute to the pain that the Brown family is going through. We understand what an unimaginable experience this is for them. But to hear their attorney Mr. Crump repeatedly use caustic, inflammatory terms, I think I counted him calling Darren Wilson a killer six times.
That doesn't contribute to the peace that the Brown family and others are calling for.
BLITZER: You think Mr. Crump is contributing to the problem out there by using that word killer. He did kill this teenager, right?
ROORDA: Yes, I think putting it in those terms. And he's not a killer if -- he's at least not a murderer in the eyes of the law if he's not indicted.
I think that using that inflammatory language out of one side of your mouth and then saying that you're hoping for peaceful demonstrations out of the other is a bit disingenuous.
BLITZER: We're showing viewers, by the way, live pictures on the left part of the screen. Jeff, this is where the incident occurred, where Michael Brown was shot by the police officer Darren Wilson. You see what's going on over there right now.
Once again, a decision has been reached by the grand jury. We don't know what that decision is, but we do expect an announcement fairly soon of that decision.
The legal team that Darren Wilson has, are they -- it's a strong legal defense that he has? Do you know this team?
ROORDA: I do. They're all great attorneys. They all handle a lot of police cases and they have all handled a lot of police officer- involved shootings. I mean, I don't think he could have a better legal team. I certainly hold all of his attorneys in high esteem.
BLITZER: Just to confirm, Darren Wilson, he did testify before the grand jury at length presenting his side of the story, right?
ROORDA: That's what has been publicly reported and that's my understanding, yes. And that's extraordinary too, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know it is extraordinary. If they want to go after him, usually they don't make him go before the grand jury, the Saint Louis County prosecutor, right?
And just back to Mr. Crump's point about there being some injustice here with taking this case to the grand jury, you know, the prosecutor did have the option of charging officer Wilson outright. That would have been the easy way out.
If there were evidence to do so, I would suspect Bob McCulloch would have avoided this grand jury process and just gone straight to taking a charge before the circuit court. I don't know what he's thinking or what he knows. But it certainly would have been the easier route to just charge him outright.
And it would also have been the easier route to make a recommendation to the grand jury. But if his recommendation would have been not to charge them, he would have been crucified in public for making that recommendation. So he's left this in the hands of a jury of Darren Wilson's peers. I think that's a very responsible, prudent course.
BLITZER: We only learned the other day, I don't know, you might have known this longer than us, it was only publicly revealed that Darren Wilson, within the last several days, got married, right?
ROORDA: You know, I know that's been publicly reported. I don't know anything about that, and I wouldn't talk about it if I did.
It's bad enough that Darren is in harm's way because what of what he believes is strictly discharging his duties. I don't want to talk about his family situation and put anywhere else in harm's way.
BLITZER: And he's worried about his safety and you're worried about his safety, irrespective of the grand jury decision, right?
You know, Wolf, what we saw in the wake of the shooting in August was two solid weeks of violent protests where there were organized attempts to kill and injure police every night. That should have been the leadoff on every newscast every night for those two weeks was that, again, attempts have been made to kill and injure police.
Instead, we kept hearing this term peaceful protest. That's just not what was happening.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff Roorda, we're going to check back with you.
Obviously, we're standing by for the announcement, the decision of this grand jury, whether or not they're going to go forward with charges against the police officer Darren Wilson.
We're standing by for this news conference. The governor of Missouri, there you see -- they're getting ready for this news conference. The governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, getting ready to speak out with other officials on preparations that are being made for the official announcement.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. An announcement soon in the grand jury decision of the Michael Brown shooting. We're also about to learn whether the police officer, Darren Wilson, will be charged or won't be charged.
You're looking at live pictures coming out of Missouri right now. We're standing by for a news conference. The governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, he's getting ready to meet with reporters to discuss what's going on, plans for potential demonstrations. Hopefully, they will all be peaceful, no violence, even irrespective of what the decision of the grand jury is.
We're told that the governor will be joined by the St. Louis County executive, Charlie Dooley; the St. Louis mayor, Francis Slay; the Department of Public Safety director, Dan Eisam (ph). They will have statements. They will be followed, we're told, by a statement eventually by the prosecutor, the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who will make the official announcement on what that grand jury decision is.
But it's a tense time right now, because people are obviously very, very anxious to get word and see where this goes. Let me bring Tom Fuentes in, former assistant director of the FBI, our CNN law enforcement analyst.
Tom, we're waiting -- we're waiting for the governor right now. In fact, here they come right now, the governor surrounded by the others.
Let's listen in.
GOV. JAY NIXON, MISSOURI: Good evening. I'm pleased to be joined this evening by St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay; St. Louis County executive Charlie Dooley; Missouri Director of Public Safety Dan Eisam (ph).
Later this evening, the St. Louis County prosecutor will announce the grand jury's decision. While none of us knows what that will be, our shared hope and expectation is that, regardless of the decision, people on all sides -- sides show tolerance, mutual respect and restraint.
Earlier today, I visited with some folks in Ferguson, and it's understandable that, like the rest of us, they are on edge waiting for a decision. But they're doing their best to go about their daily lives, conduct their business, and support one another and their community.
I also spoke with a number of faith leaders late this afternoon who offered their prayers for peace and safety. Together, we are all focused on making sure the necessary resources are at hand to protect lives, protect property, and protect free speech.
Several churches will be providing safe havens throughout the area to provide food, shelter and medical care. Mental health providers have teamed up to help ease the emotional strain that these events have caused. These health professionals are working right now to provide counseling and other services to the people who need them.
Law enforcement officials continue to maintain open lines of communication with protest leaders to improve the interactions between police and demonstrators and prevent violence. I want to thank my director of public safety, Dan Eisam (ph) for taking part in these ongoing discussions.
State and local law enforcement agencies are continuing to work hand in hand to make sure the best, most experienced officers are on the street. The men and women of the National Guard will also be in the area to provide security at critical facilities like firehouses, police stations, and utility substations, and offer logistical and transportation support as needed. This will help free up law- enforcement officers to do their jobs effectively.
In closing, I'd like to reiterate my call for peace, respect, and restraint and thank everyone out there who's working hard to make sure communities throughout the region are safe and secure.
I'd now like to ask County Executive Dooley to make a couple of comments. Then I'll call on the rest of our folks, and we'll be glad to take a few questions. The county executive of St. Louis County, Charlie Dooley.
CHARLIE DOOLEY, ST. LOUIS COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Let me say good evening to all of you. I do not know what the prosecuting attorney will have to say this evening, but I do know this: No matter what is announced, people will be emotional. I want people to think with their heads and not with emotion. No matter what, we have to remain focused on the long-term, systemic changes that has to take place in our community.
Our immediate priority is to ensure that people are safe and able to voice their concerns in an orderly fashion. Police and community groups have been working for weeks to ensure their rights are protected. We are committed to deescalating negative situations in a responsible manner.
I do not want people in this community to think they have to barricade their doors and take up arms. We are not that kind of a community. I do not want people to accidently shoot or harm someone out of fear. This is not the time to turn on each other. It is a time to turn to each other. We are one community.
Again, our main priority at this time is to ensure that we keep people safe and protect property. We intend to do that. But it is to be said and to be clear that, in achieving these objectives, we recognize the right of people to peacefully assemble and to express free speech rights. We will honor that as long as safety and security are not jeopardized.
I personally believe that people in this community will do what is right. In October, there were thousands of people here peacefully protesting and expressing their views. No one was hurt.
Many, many people have spent countless hours working on ways to manage this situation once the grand jury decision is announced. And now is the time to show the world that we can act without being destructive. I am confident this will be a fact. Thank you.
NIXON: Now the great leader from the great city of St. Louis, Mayor Francis Slay.
FRANCIS SLAY, MAYOR OF ST. LOUIS: Thank you, Governor, and good evening.
St. Louis is a region that endures during challenging times. We have seen it time and time again. We have seen it in the face of personal tragedy, and we've seen it in the aftermath of natural disaster. We face one of those times today.
What happened to Michael Brown has deeply divided us. Whatever is announced this evening, some people are going to be angry and frustrated. And some people are going to be angry and frustrated about that.
My message to the protesters: we will protect your right to peacefully assemble and to speak your mind. Like last night, we will give you leeway to occupy public safety, and we will listen to your grievances. But turning violent or damaging property will not be tolerated.
To the people who disagree with the protesters, the actions we are taking are designed to protect you, to protect your family, your homes, your businesses, and your neighborhoods. That is our paramount concern. Over the next few days, we expect to see the people of St. Louisians loudly and passionately expressing their views. We expect to see some of the best police officers in the country protecting their rights and keeping everyone safe. But after that, it will be time to heal, to close the racial divide, and to make St. Louis a better place for everyone, regardless of race or color.
We all may experience some inconvenience during the coming days. Depending on the circumstances, we may allow demonstrators to slow down traffic, but we will not allow them to hurt anyone or damage anyone's property.
That's how it went last night in the Shaw neighborhood. It wasn't perfect. There were two acts of vandalism, but there was no other property damage; and most importantly, no one was seriously injured.
When President Abraham Lincoln first proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, it's worth recalling that he sought to help a nation heal and to work together toward the promise of what he called a large increase in freedom.
The world will be watching us. They're going to watch how we handle our disagreements in the coming days. And how we make needed change in the coming months and years. St. Louis finds itself with an opportunity to show the nation the ways in which a community can be more fair and more just for everyone. We must seize this opportunity together.
NIXON: Now one more speaker, and I'll be glad to take questions here. The director of public safety in the state of Missouri, director Dan Eisam (ph).
DAN EISAM (PH), MISSOURI DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC SAFETY: Thank you, Governor.
I've spent my entire life as a resident of the city of St. Louis and served 24 years as a member of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police department, retiring as chief of police.
The St. Louis County Police, the St. Louis City Police and the Missouri Highway Patrol have spent the last two months planning and training for the anticipated reaction to the announcement that will be made in the next few hours. The plan is designed for all contingencies, but we hope that officers will only observe peaceful protests.
I have great confidence in the design of this plan. It has prioritized keeping all people safe, residents and protesters; the protection of property; and ensuring that people can exercise their constitutional rights.
I also have tremendous confidence in the men and women in St. Louis law enforcement. They understand the importance of protecting everyone, and I know they intend to do so.
I also have great confidence in the people of my community. A tremendous dialogue has begun to take place here about more than just policing. This community understands that, through peaceful protests and through dialogue, we will continue to grow. And that violence will set this progress back. We must continue to move this community forward, and I have confidence that that is exactly what we will do tonight, and in the days ahead of us.
NIXON: With that, I would be glad to take questions.
REPORTER: Governor, I'm wondering, was there any thought of delaying this until tomorrow morning? Seems like the element of darkness at night makes it possibly more dangerous for the protesters if they do show up, and the police officers, as well as people just standing around?
NIXON: Those were decisions made by the St. Louis County Prosecutor's Office, and that is who made that call. So -- yes, Jase.
REPORTER: Governor, what would you say to the thousands and millions of people around America who felt like the government has failed them over the last few months, that the judicial system has failed them over the last three and a half months?
NIXON: Our focus is not about what happened over the last three and a half months. I think the last three and a half months has provided additional training, additional sensitivity, and additional knowledge on everybody in front.
Our focus today, in the short run here, is to protect lives, is to protect property, and to protect speech. In the longer run, as the mayor said, to find paths for progress.
So, our focus is on those clear principles, as we move forward.
REPORTER: How are you going to move forward in terms of healing the racial divide? What steps are you going to take?
NIXON: As I said, tonight is about the pieces that are in place to do what we have to do. Clearly all of the folks behind me, as well as significant leaders in the community, have begun that process.
I had a chance before I came in here, the conference call with a number of faith leaders, who are working deeply and with long hours to do just that. We have with the office of community engagement here, with Senator Coleman, doing that on a daily basis. All of these folks behind me have been outreach in the community, listening and working, and also the commission that I've appointed.
I expect with their independent voice and their clear ability to chart the long-term path forward, that we will also have suggestions, which can lead us in a positive path forward.
REPORTER: Have you ruled out the use of armored vehicles and tear gas? NIXON: No, I'm not going to get into operational details, but the
bottom line is, the police have been trained, as the mayor and others have said, to make sure that we are respecting people's rights to communicate and allowing them to do that. However, on the other side, if people are violent, or threaten property, you know, then resources will be used to manage the issues.
REPORTER: Governor, are you planning to stay in the area in the coming days (INAUDIBLE) updates about that's going on?
NIXON: You know, I've been here, I believe, seven of the last eight days and will be here tonight, and as long as it takes to make sure that we move through this particular phase, whatever it may be, into the next phase.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have time for one more question, folks.
REPORTER: Governor, Governor --
NIXON: Joe, quick, first --
REPORTER: Wouldn't the lack of an indictment be a justification of police violence and lead --
NIXON: I call on this man first.
REPORTER: If I might ask you, you need to let the alternative press here. I'm from Revolution newspaper, Larry Everett. So, wouldn't a lack of indictment mean fear for black people all over this country and effectively a green light to further police violence? And second, I would like to pose to you how you would respond to the call by Carl Dixon and many others from the revolutionary communist party that if Darren Wilson is not indicted to murder, the country be brought to a halt through energetic civil disobedience by millions of people?
NIXON: I do not know what the grand jury has ruled, nor do I know what the prosecutor is going to announce at 8:00 tonight.
REPORTER: Can you say now roughly how many National Guards will be at least on stand by? I know the mayor has said before he's asked for 400. And how long you think they may be need.
NIXON: Well, as I said before, we'll have guard resource here that will play a support role. For example, providing utility substation security. As we know on Halloween, the power went out here in Ferguson. Most of the proof would indicate that was not accidental. Nor was it a squirrel running down a wire, or whatever happens sometimes.
Also, police substations and stations, the guard can provide support roles there. So that those police officers can get out into the community. And also things like fire houses, where those, if called upon, both EMT and the fire resources need to get there in real time and providing that security.
So, in roles like that, support roles like that, the guard will be out there. Our hope is that it's for a short period of time as is necessary and that backup role is the -- is all that will be necessary. Thank you all very, very much.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. There he is. The governor of Missouri announcing steps that the community, the state, local authorities, the city of St. Louis, the county of St. Louis are taking to deal with potentially some violent demonstrations. Let's hope the demonstrations are all peaceful.
John gaskin, you're there in Ferguson for us. Why -- is there any explanation why they decided the prosecutor in this case, the St. Louis prosecutor, to go ahead and make this announcement at nighttime, it's going to be 9:00 Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Central Time? Are they giving any explanation why he is making this announcement when it's already dark there? Because that could further complicate a situation if they the demonstrations do erupt.
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Wolf, many young people on the ground are saying this is sketchy. Why would you make this kind of huge decision while the world is watching? I would think a prosecutor that works for the state would want to do everything that he can to accommodate all parties and try to promote peace, calm and ensure that no one is injured or there is no necessary unrest. You know, as you look behind me, it's dark here.
Now, I can understand, maybe he wanted to make sure that all students had left school or that everyone had cleared out of Clayton. But he could have easily made this decision tomorrow morning. I think it puts both law enforcement and protesters in a great deal of potential danger, especially in a situation where you have many people on the ground within the community that are trying to diffuse it. And ensure that things remain peaceful.
BLITZER: All right. John, stand by. Everyone stand by. We've got full analysis of what we just heard as we await this grand jury decision.
We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: These are live pictures. People are already gathering outside the Missouri police station. You see the crowd already gather there in advance of the announcement of the grand jury decision on Michael Brown shooting.
Tom Fuentes, you've been watching this from the very beginning, former assistant director of the FBI. Do you have an explanation why the announcement is going to be made at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 Central, right at the -- when it's dark already?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No. I think this is getting ridiculous. This whole situation has been just so much drama and tension for two months. Why add to that?
People have had six, eight hours notice that the decision had been made. The announcement would be made. You know, they're not relying on the old days, pony express to send the message.
Everybody should know in the world that this decision is ready to be announced, announce and it get this over with.
BLITZER: Move on.
Donna, you've been watching it as well, Donna Brazile. What did you think about what we heard from the governor, the St. Louis County executive, the St. Louis mayor, man in charge of public safety?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm a little baffled about the timing. Why so late. I'm also concerned that some of the messages that you're hearing, these are peaceful protesters by and large. These are members of the community. Something was clearly broken before Michael Brown was shot and murdered.
And, you know, tonight, Wolf, this is a very tense moment. And I just thought, they're making a mess out of it once again.
BLITZER: Is there some legal explanation, Jeffrey Toobin why they -- we got word around 1:30 p.m. Eastern today when CNN first broke the story that the decision by the grand jury had been reached? We don't know what that decision is, but we got word then.
Is there a legal reason why they have to wait all these hours to make the decision public?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely not. This was entirely, or this is entirely under the control of the Missouri authorities. I thought it was very interesting when the governor was asked this question. Why do this at night? And he essentially threw up his hands and said it was up to the prosecuting attorney.
I mean, I thought he was the governor of the state. I mean, he is not simply passive participant in this. If he thought it was a good idea to announce it during the day, he certainly could have imposed his will.
Now, in fairness, presumably the justification for doing this at night is that school children are at home. Most people are at home. Most businesses are closed. But nighttime is generally not the time that police like to be dealing with potentially dangerous situations.
I find this a completely bizarre decision to do this at night. I hope and expect it will work out fine but it seems weird to me.
BLITZER: Yes, I think everybody seems to agree.
Tom Fuentes, button this up for us. The FBI, you used to be the assistant director. They're watching closely what's going on.
FUENTES: Certainly, they're watching and they're also looking for people that are showing up from out of state, out of the country just to come and cause trouble.
BLITZER: Out of the country, is that --
FUENTES: Yes, many of these situations when you have major gatherings, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the bureau and other countries through Interpol and through the (INAUDIBLE) track that. They come from all over.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay on top of this story obviously here on throughout the night.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" picks up our special right now.