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Protests in Missouri; New Robin Williams Revelation; Gov. Nixon's News Conference on Ferguson

Aired August 14, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What you're about to see, these images, they are not from Gaza. They are not from Iraq. They're from right here in Ferguson, Missouri, USA.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, police throwing stun grenades, shooting rubber bullets, using tear gas, protesters hurling Molotov cocktails, burning down buildings -- the city of Ferguson bracing for a fifth night of violence, as police refuse still to release the name of the officer who fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop videotaping. Let's grab our stuff and go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hurry up. Let's go.


TAPPER: Alleged misuse of force. A pair of journalists in Ferguson say police manhandled and arrested them. Others hit with tear gas while reporting, making it clear that, in Ferguson, a press pass is not a shield.

And the pop culture lead, surprising news from the wife of Robin Williams this afternoon, pulling back the curtain even further on the troubles that plagued the comic genius, revealing for the first time that will Williams suffered from a crippling disease.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're coming to you live from Ferguson, Missouri, where any moment now we are expecting a news conference from the Democratic governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, as this city prepares for another potential night like this.

Police throwing stun grenades at demonstrators in the streets, firing rubber bullets, forcing the crowd to scramble for safety. Police claim they only responded with force after protesters threw Molotov cocktails. And while there are images of Molotov cocktails in protesters' hands, witnesses, such as an Saint Louis Alderman Antonio French, who was arrested for unlawful assembly last night, say police are the ones who instigated the violence.

As the media hordes descend upon this town of 21,000, there are now enough cameras and smartphones to capture nearly every flinch made here. And yet, so much about the incident that sparked it all remains a mystery, such as the name of the officer who fatally shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on Saturday afternoon, police keeping that quiet, including a lot of other details in the case, citing the officer's safety.

The police version, the police version is that Brown, who was walking to his grandmother's house in this neighborhood, got into an altercation with the officer in question and according to police reached for the officer's gun, but a number of witnesses say that is not how it happened at all.

And, of course, there is no video of it. While protesters and police clashed in the streets of Ferguson last night, President Obama was at a private party in Martha's Vineyard, where the White House told us a good time was had by all.

If the president waited until a moment of perfect calm to take a vacation, of course, he would never take a vacation. Still, perhaps some optics that were troubling.

Today, after he woke up to headlines of anarchy in Ferguson, President Obama came to the cameras to call for peace.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting.

There's also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.

And here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs.


TAPPER: Of course not. Going after journalists for exercising their First Amendment rights, that is a job for the Justice Department.

President Obama of course alluding to the arrests of two journalists in a McDonald's just down the street from here is, "Washington Post" reporter Wesley Lowery and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post. Police told them they were trespassing in this McDonald's that they had been using for some time.

But of course Reilly and Lowery say their only crime was conspiracy to commit journalist. And we will be talking to Reilly in just a moment.

Let me just give you an idea of where I am. The site, Canfield Green, where Michael Brown was shot, is just down the street and to the left. You take a left on the next street, Canfield. And it's in this rather well-manicured government housing project down the street.

Of course, right here, you have protesters who have been out there for hours, hands up, don't shoot, getting people to honk. And then behind me you can see this convenience store that was burnt down by protesters on Saturday night.

Let's bring in CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown, who has some new information. And of course, here with me is CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll. He's been covering the story right here in Ferguson since Monday.

Pam, I want to go to you first, because there's been this big mystery about the investigation into what happened with Michael Brown. There's a witness who's been interviewed on CNN, interviewed elsewhere, and yet police had not talked to him before CNN and other channels got to him. Is there any news on the investigation and the witnesses?


We have learned that federal investigators have interviewed with Dorian Johnson, the man who was with Michael Brown, who says he was with Michael Brown when the shooting occurred on Saturday. So we have learned that they have interviewed Johnson. Of course, this is after what he told CNN in an interview, Jake, that you alluded to.

Johnson had said initially that he was walking down the street with Michael Brown and that the cop came up. He said a white male police officer came up to them and yelled at them to get off onto the sidewalk. And then he later said, as we have heard so many times, that he -- that Michael Brown put his hands up and surrendered and the police officer shot.

Now, as we know, police are giving a different account that there was an altercation and that Brown tried to go for his gun. But this -- Dorian Johnson is a key witness in this investigation, Jake. Of course, it is critical in any investigation to get to the witnesses early on, so that they don't hear other accounts and change their story.

Of course, he isn't the only witness, as we heard today in a statement that Attorney General Eric Holder released, that officials have been interviewing other eyewitnesses as well. So that is key. That is really the first step in this investigation. It's going to be a thorough, a slow, painstaking process, though, Jake, I can tell you that.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, stay with us.

Jason Carroll has been here since Monday.

Jason, I want you to answer questions I'm getting from viewers on Twitter. First of all, as somebody who has been here since Monday and you have seen several nights of violence. JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot.

TAPPER: What's going on with how militarized the police are? How violent are the protests? Is this all this really necessary?

CARROLL: Well, it depends upon your point of view.

First of all, when we were out here on Monday, in fact, just about 100 meters from where we are standing now, it was the same situation that we saw out here last night that you saw in the video. As we came out, there was a heavy police presence. They were In riot gear. They were using tear gas and asking everyone to leave.

You have seen this neighborhood here, Jake. The people in the neighborhood were saying, this is our neighborhood. Where are we supposed to go? This is my yard. Where am I supposed to go? As the police came down here, it was I think shocking for a lot of us who were here into the media to see such a heavy police presence so heavily armed.

When you think about the history here, what's been happening here in this community for years, which is people here, especially those within the African-American community, really feel as though there's been a history of police using excessive force. Imagine what happened when you have demonstrators coming out here and again they see this presence of excessive force.

I think from many people here on the ground, it made a bad situation even worse.

TAPPER: We have seen pictures of protesters with Molotov cocktails. As somebody who is here, how many of the people protesting are using violence and how many of them are peaceful?


CARROLL: You see both. The overwhelming majority of the people who are out here are peaceful demonstrators, whether it's out here in the day, as you see people out here, and those people honking in support as they go by, or even at night, some people just coming by wanting to express their political point of view.

However, in that crowd, we also saw people who were clearly there to cause trouble. Their face is covered, carrying rocks, things like that. And so from the police point of view, how do you then differentiate between someone like you who perhaps is getting out there to peacefully show your support for what happened vs. someone who is next to you who's going to throw a rock?

That's the challenge that police have here on ground.

TAPPER: Pamela, back in Washington, what are your sources telling you about what's next in terms of law enforcement in this area? I have heard people say that Saint Louis County police are no longer going to be out here. Shed some light on that for us. BROWN: Well, at this stage, as far as the two the parallel

investigations, Jake, what I'm hearing from sources who are familiar with both investigations, that things are still the same. Both parallel investigations are continuing to move forward, both from the county level and also from the federal level with main Justice, DOJ, as well as the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI.

And they're really focused right now on getting those witness interviews, as well as looking at autopsy results, which, of course, is also a key part of the investigation, as well as ballistics. So, that's really where things stand. And also today, Jake, we learned that DOJ is deploying more resources not only to help with the investigation, but also to help police there in Ferguson to control the crowd.

In fact, we learned that DOJ has sent some officials from the Department of Justice programs at DOJ to help with technical assistance to help with some less extreme ways to control the crowd. As Eric Holder said in his statement today, he said that he's deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.

That's really what is going to be the role of these additional officials there on the ground. And we know that the town of Ferguson has accepted this assistance. So, hopefully, Jake, we will see some changes as far as some of the violence with the protests that we have seen.

And also we learned that the -- Robert Moossy, who is the head of the Civil Rights Criminal Division, just arrived there on the ground this morning in Ferguson, as well as his team. They're going to be helping with the investigation. So DOJ is really stepping up efforts really on both ends with the investigation, with helping police in Ferguson.

We also know Eric Holder had a meeting with President Obama earlier today to brief him on everything that is going on. And Eric Holder also spoke with the U.S. attorney in Saint Louis, as well as the acting assistant attorney for civil rights. So he clearly is treating this as a top priority -- Jake.

TAPPER: Thanks, Pamela.

Jason, before we go, be I want to ask you, because you were stuck here last night on this residential street. People, just to give them the lay of the land, this is a residential neighborhood. You see this gas station and what was once a convenience store. But this is a residential neighborhood.

Wait. Actually, we're told right now that the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, is about to come out and start his news conference.

Why don't we go to that right now? Let's listen in.

GOV. JAY NIXON (D), MISSOURI: Good afternoon, everyone.

First of all, I want to thank all of the local elected and appointed officials who are with us today, as well as the community leaders of this region. We deeply appreciate the stress and activities you have been going under.

And also want to thank our great friends here at the University of Missouri, Saint Louis, Chancellor George always deeply involved in the community and willing to assist us in whatever way, shape, or form. And I thank him for the excellent leadership he provides in this region.

I want to thank everybody for joining us on a very busy day for the community.

First, let me go through what we have done today. Then you will hear from a couple folks here, and then we will be glad to take questions.

This morning, I was briefed by state public officials on the events of yesterday evening and morning. I also spoke this morning with President Obama, who conveyed his concerns about the situation and an appreciation for our efforts to resolve it.

Here in Saint Louis, I have met with faith and civic leaders, area legislators. And I took a moment to visit the scene this morning, where earlier this week a young man, a man not much younger than my own sons, lost his life.

Finally, of course, I deeply appreciate the opportunity to speak with and hear from members of the neighborhood that is directly affected by the events of the last six days. They told me that they want a community that is healthy and happy and safe.

They want their streets to be free from intimidation and fear. They told me they want peace, they want truth, and they want to be treated with respect ask.

Today, my message to the people of Ferguson is that these voices have been heard. Over the past several days, we have all been deeply troubled by this crisis, as the pain of last weekend's tragedy has been compounded by days of grief and nights of conflict and fear.

What's gone on here over the last few days is not about what -- is not what Missouri's about. It's not what the Ferguson is about. This is a place where people work, go to school, raise their families and go to church, a diverse community, a Missouri community.

But, lately, it's looked a little bit more like a war zone. And that's unacceptable. To change that course, we're going to all need to join hands to rebuild the trust that's been lost and mend what's been broken and to help this community regain its confidence and its stability.

Literally, the eyes of our nation and the world are on us. In order for that important process of healing and reconciliation to begin, we need to address some very immediate challenges.

That's why today, I'm announcing that the Missouri Highway Patrol, under the supervision of Captain Ron Johnson, who grew up in this area, will be directing the team that provides security in Ferguson.

Now, what I'm announcing today does not affect the responsibilities of those who are involved in the investigation. And I would once again like to thank General Holder for agreeing to my request that the Justice Department conduct a parallel investigation into this matter.

I also want to thank all the local law enforcement officials who have been working so very hard on the investigation here at the local level.

While that investigation continues, the immediate security responsibilities will now be directed by Missouri State Highway Patrol, who have proven themselves time and again when Missourians have need them the most.

I want to thank the hardworking members of the local and regional police departments who have and will continue to work with the Highway Patrol as the troopers take the lead in this critical mission.

I want to specifically thank those officers who have been working double shifts, who have been out there on the cutting edge, working, putting themselves out there. I appreciate the work that they have done.

Today is a day though that our words and deeds will set a better cornerstone on which to build our shared future because I believe and, quite frankly, I know that Ferguson will not be defined as a community torn apart by violence but we'll be known as a community that pulled together to overcome it.

Today is a day that we renew our commitment to the bring peace to the families of Ferguson, the day we commit to our mutual responsibilities of ensuring the safety and security of our communities and making sure they are served with justice and respect by their leaders. The day we embrace our shared obligation as citizens, to express our grief in a peaceful manner and voice our expectations for fairness and justice.

Friends, we must pledge again to build up this community and direct it and ourselves toward the better angels of our nature.

We'll now hear from a couple other folks. I'll be glad to take questions.

The first of those I want to introduce for you to make a few comments: Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol -- Captain Johnson.

CAPT. RON JOHNSON, MISSOURI STATE HIGHWAY PATROL: I appreciate the significance of this responsibility and the fact that this community and state and the nation are looking for law enforcement leadership that protects and serves our citizens. I grew up here and this is currently my community and my home. And therefore, it means a lot to me personally that we break the cycle of violence, diffuse the tension, and build trust. showing the utmost respect for every interaction with every citizen. Moving forward, I'm confident that the patrol and police resources

present here in Ferguson would do just that. They understand as I do how important it is that Ferguson has confidence in law enforcement, works with us and understands that we are here to serve them.

I understand that the anger and fear that the citizens of Ferguson are feeling. And our police officers will respect both of those. Thank you.

NIXON: We now go to chief executive of this region, and I appreciate their cooperation and support and the professionalism they and their teams bring to a myriad of opportunities each and every day.

Let me first ask the county executive of St. Louis County, Charlie Dooley, if you would.

CHARLES DOOLEY, ST. LOUIS COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Good afternoon to all of you.

I come to you this afternoon with a very heavy heart. What we have seen these past few days in St. Louis County has been a tragedy. For the Michael Brown family, it has been a tragedy. They have lost a son. In St. Louis County, the world is looking at us and how do we treat our own.

Is this freedom of assembly? Of course, there is. We support freedom of assembly. But what we do not support is disobedience for the law abiding people in St. Louis County.

I have been saddened by what I have even these past few days, individuals come to this community not for the right purpose. I'm for justice. I am not for revenge. I'm for doing what's right and making it right.

We have a large job ahead of us -- bringing this community together. It is not going to be a simple thing. There are too many questions that has not been answered, that need explanations. People need to know, have closure to what is going on around them. Are they going to be protected in their homes? Are they going to feel safe in their communities?

But even more importantly, as we move forward, can the community and our law enforcement come together to work as a unit? Neither one can get there by themselves. We need each of them to participate in this process.

I want to thank Governor Nixon and his team stepping forward, recognizing we need all the resources that we can possibly garner to make this happen, to improve the process. I want to thank my good friend Mayor Slay for being with us and Captain Johnson.

It's going to take all of our agencies to make this of situation better. It's going to take all of us. But even more importantly, it's going to take the people in the communities to calm down, stand down and let's be reasonable. Let's have a conversation about what is happening in our community. How do we perceive ourselves? How will the world look at us as a community?

This ought not to be a black and white thing. This ought not to be a disrespectful thing for citizens of our community. We can do better than this. I'm confident that as we go forward, we're going to make a difference.

And one of the things that I pledge to you, I'm going to appoint a blue ribbon committee to report to me to look at what are we doing, how are we doing it, but even more importantly, get people in the community involved in this process. They need to feel that they are part of it. They need to feel that they're a part of the solution. And the only way you can do that is involved those individuals.

So, I pledge in the next coming weeks, we're going to get a blue ribbon committee from both sides and let's get together and talk about what are our expectations, what do we expect, and how are we doing. And give a regular update on what's going on in our community.

We have nothing to hide. It's transparent and oh, by the way, we want the media to be involved in this process, as well. We want to make sure they're kept upfront of what's going on, why are we doing certain things and what's the outcome we expect.

I look forward to this communication, I look forward to this resources coming together. But even more importantly, I believe that we can make a difference in people's lives. People expect us in St. Louis County that make their life safe, their businesses safe, their families safe, they have a right to that. And that's our jobs. And we're going to do it.

So in closing -- I am committed to this process. I know our team is committed to this process. All of our agencies are committed to this process. I need the people of St. Louis County and the region to be committed to this process.

It's not an "us" thing. It's ours. This is our community. The world is looking at us across this world.

And how we represent ourselves it speaks volumes to our young people. They're our next leaders. We are the mentors. We're setting the bar.

What type of bar are we setting for our young people? They're looking at us. It is our responsibility to make it better.

Thank you.

NIXON: Let me also thank these members of the legislature with us today that represent this area so well and have their finger on the pulse of this community and represent that so well in Jefferson City.

I appreciate these leaders being with us. We have been in contact with them as we move through. We'll continue to do that in the coming weeks. But I want to thank them for their involvement.

Now, I'd like to hear from the mayor of the city of St. Louis, our good friend, Francis Slay. FRANCIS SLAY, ST. LOUIS MAYOR: Thank you, Governor.

Michael Brown was fatally shot in Ferguson this past Saturday. His parents, his family, friends and this community are all in mourning. I mean, these are facts that are not in dispute. Nor is the need for a full, fair and transparent investigation. Nor is the need for justice to be served or people to be heard.

The governor asked me to stand with him and County Executive Dooley today to demonstrate our common agreement on this situation. Justice must happen. The grieving must be comforted. The angry must be heard. And the innocent must it be protected.

I agree on the direction that the governor set. I offered him the experience of two senior police commanders from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Chief Sam Dotson and Major Ronnie Robinson, both of whom are here this afternoon available to provide advice and support.

Sam and Ronnie will bring a wealth of useful and practical knowledge to the effort, and certainly whatever support they can provide. They can help protect people and their right to assemble peaceably, protect the right write to talk about and report it and to help keep people safe.

I want to conclude by recognizing the officers of the St. Louis county police department and Ferguson police department and other law enforcement officials that have been involved on the streets of Ferguson over the past several days.

I want to thank you for your service, thank you for respecting your badge, for honoring your oath, and for again, the service to our community generally. I hope that the decision made by the governor will make your mission clearer, safer, and shorter.

Thank you.

NIXON: Me first, they be we'll take other questions later.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You've been listening to a press conference of the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon.

First of all, he said that watching Ferguson has been a little bit like a war zone and it's not acceptable. Perhaps most pointedly, he has now said that Missouri state highway patrol officers are now in charge of security for this area, not St. Louis County police.

We're going to go back to the governor for one second now.

NIXON: That we use force only when necessary. That we step back a little bit and let some of the energy be felt in this region appropriately, but that's only possible to succeed tonight and tomorrow and the next day after that if you have as was indicated by Executive Dooley as well as others the support of the community. That's why these legislators and other local leaders are so important.

But I think you're going to see once again, I don't want to speak for operationally other than to say that I think while maintaining the peace but allowing more movement, trying to bring in different shall we say a different tone of the amplitude of protective force. My sense is that that will have an effect. I know operational teams on the ground are working on those changes anyway. I appreciate that.


REPORTER: Can you answer, will there be armored cars on the streets?

NIXON: Wait. We're going to get plenty of questions here. Yes, go ahead, Kevin.

REPORTER: How would you characterize account previous --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please use the microphone.


NIXON: I mean, all of us have seen some level of escalation. We've seen some level of escalation of both the arms used to deter as well as some of the conduct. I think there's been at that level, we feel that we need to dim that acceleration, provide an avenue for folks to speak appropriately but that I think will allow us to have a better chance at a better focus on guaranteeing more public safety.

So clearly, I think you'll see a -- as the afternoon and evening starts, a little different picture and our hope is that that will begin. We should also note that you know, there will be resources out there if things get difficult, to make sure that people are kept safe.

But I think that clearly, the kind of the strong front on the force line, our -- the strong force on the frontline, our hopes would be that we'd have the ability to get a little more peaceful interaction on the front with force for the back.

REPORTER: Governor, how would you explain the nature of the presence that we saw on the streets yesterday? I mean, there were armored personnel carriers about 100 police in military style uniform, high- powered rifles trained on the crowd. I mean, who is in charge of making those decisions? And are they going to be held to account for mistakes that you clearly think have been made?

NIXON: No, no, I think that -- that was yesterday. Tonight's tonight. Tomorrow's tomorrow.

We all have seen both an acceleration as to the intensity, kind of on both sides of the equation. And our hope is that this shift, this operational shift will begin the process of lowering the intensity of those direct interactions and potential risks while at the same time expanding an opportunity for folks to speak out appropriately about both long and short-term issues that clearly have struck a nerve. Yes. REPORTER: Definitely one-sided yesterday. It was definitely one- sided yesterday. It was a response to a peaceful protest. There had been no violence at all from the crowd, and the nature of that response -- just trying to understand how that can happen. Who was in charge that the point of making those decisions that brought --


NIXON: I'm not looking backwards. I'm looking forward and forward when we saw the acceleration in this situation and the thrusting forward.