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THE SITUATION ROOM

Chaos in Ferguson

Aired March 12, 2015 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A frantic hunt is under way for whoever did it. Will new violence break out tonight?

Call for calm. The family of Michael Brown, whose death sparked the crisis, pleading with protesters to reject violence. I will talk to their attorney this hour.

And who is in charge? A wave of firings and resignations leave top leadership positions empty as the U.S. Justice Department and local police engage in finger pointing. Who is ensuring the citizens of Ferguson are safe?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. In less than one hour, Saint Louis County police and Missouri Highway Patrol officers, they will taking over security for the protests in Ferguson amid growing fear for the safety of the city's own officers.

Two of them were shot at the end of what had been a peaceful demonstration. You are looking at video of the scene. You can hear the gunshots and see the chaos that followed, some people scattering while others rushed to help the wounded officers. Both men lucky to be alive, according to officials. And now an intense search for the person who fired on them is unfolding.

We have just learned three people taken in for questioning have been released without charges. We're covering all angles of the story with our correspondents and our guests, including the head of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks, and Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League.

But let's begin in Ferguson.

CNN's Jake Tapper, anchor of THE LEAD, is there for us.

Jake, what is the latest?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you mentioned, the Ferguson police force here are about to cede security control here to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Saint Louis County police in about an hour. We're expecting that shift to take place. It has been a day of tension and confusion with a manhunt and

people wondering what might happen next.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER (voice-over): Police are frantically searching for clues on who may have been responsible for the shooting of two police officers in Ferguson. Late last night, bloodied riot gear marked violence on streets which have already witnessed so much unrest.

JON BELMAR, SAINT LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI, POLICE CHIEF: This is really an ambush is what it is.

TAPPER: Today, both officers have been released from the hospital. They are lucky to be alive after sustaining serious wounds in a protest rally aimed at Ferguson's police department.

BELMAR: My officers tell me when they heard the shots and when they heard the bullets zinging past, that they saw multiple flashes.

TAPPER: The shooting happened around midnight as the demonstration was winding down. The bullets hit a 41-year-old veteran of Saint Louis County's police force in the shoulder, and a 32-year- old from a nearby department in the face.

BELMAR: Right here, at the high point of your cheek, right under the right eye, and the bullet lodges right behind his ear.

TAPPER: Both were standing guard in front of Ferguson police headquarters. Police took two men and a woman away from this building for questioning, but have yet to name any suspects.

Earlier today, the Saint Louis County police chief admitted he's surprised this is the first time this has happened during these Ferguson protests.

BELMAR: I think it's a miracle that we haven't had any instances similar to this over the summer and fall.

TAPPER: Police have been facing off with protesters here for months, starting, of course, after the death of Michael Brown last August, and then after the grand jury failed to return an indictment against officer Darren Wilson last November, and now, in the wake of the Justice Department finding Ferguson's law enforcement rife with racially biased abuses.

Yesterday, the police chief announced his resignation, which came after others had announced they were leaving, but for some this is all too little, too late, the shooting last night another setback for a community torn apart.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: And, of course, there are two issues right now. Wolf, one is that manhunt. There is still a cop shooter out there, somebody who is wanted and presumed dangerous. The second point, what's going to happen tonight? We have already seen police put concrete barriers in front of the force and the stores here on Florissant Avenue are starting to shut down for the evening -- Wolf. .

BLITZER: I know you will be on the scene for us all night. Jake, we will get back to you. Thank you very much.

We're just getting new information into THE SITUATION ROOM about the three people who were taken into custody and questioned by police in connection with this shooting.

Jason Carroll, our national correspondent, is on the scene in Ferguson as well.

Tell us what you are learning, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They were questioned for several hours, maybe possibly up to 10 hours of questioning by police. Three of these people, Iresha Turner, the other one Lamont Underwood, and Martez Little, Wolf, I spoke to all three of them just a few minutes ago. They live just about a half mile from where we are right now from the Ferguson Police Department.

All three of them came out here last night. They went to the protest. They said everything was going fine. All of a sudden they heard the shots ring out. They jumped in their car and they left. They went home. They thought it was all over. Then at about 3:00 a.m., they are woken out of bed. Two of them are woken out of bed. They hear police ordering them out of the house.

They were stunned. They went outside the house. Wolf, their hands were up in the air. They got down on their knees. Iresha telling me, she said, "I begged for police not to shoot me as I got down on my knees." They were taken into custody. Again, they were questioned for several hours. I said, what were they asking, what were they questions you about?

First of all, they asked them, obviously, they said, did you have anything do with the shooting? They told me no repeatedly. Second, they asked them if they knew anyone who was involved with the shooting. They told them no. Third, they asked if they saw anyone who did any of the shooting. Again, they told them no, they only heard the gunshots.

But you can imagine how terrifying it was for these three people to be brought into custody and accused in some ways of such a terrible, terrible crime.

BLITZER: I can only imagine what an awful situation. Thanks very much for that, Jason.

President Obama is condemning the shooting of the two police officers, writing in a tweet bearing his initials, "Violence against police is unacceptable. Our prayers are with the officers in Missouri. The path to justice is one all of us must travel together."

Also sharp reaction from the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder.

Our senior Washington correspondent, Joe Johns, has more on this part of the story.

What is Holder saying?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it has just been days after the DOJ report blasted Ferguson and its police department. Now Attorney General Eric Holder issuing a harsh condemnation of the shootings, calling this a heinous and cowardly attack, saying it turned his stomach.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): The shootings of two police officers in Ferguson drawing angry reaction today from Attorney General Eric Holder, calling the incident repugnant.

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: What happened last night was a pure ambush. This was not someone trying to bring healing to Ferguson. This was a damn punk.

JOHNS: The officers shot one week after the Department of Justice issued a blistering report on the Ferguson Police Department citing widespread and systematic discrimination against African- Americans by officers and the court system there.

The report found Ferguson police targeted black people in vehicle stops, citations and arrests. Every instance in which a police canine bit someone, it was an African-American. And racist e-mails between police and court officials were uncovered, including one depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee.

MATT MILLER, FORMER DOJ SPOKESMAN: The Justice Department was really laying out a case of how bad this department is. And they did that to tell the department, you need to come to the table and reform.

JOHNS: Six top Ferguson officials have resigned in the wake of the damning report, including the police chief and the city manager. But that has not been enough to quiet the powder keg atmosphere in Ferguson.

HOLDER: Seeing this attack last night really kind of turned my stomach, because I thought we had begun to see really important signs of progress.

JOHNS: Holder said last Friday the federal government will dismantle the Ferguson Police Department if necessary.

HOLDER: We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power we have to ensure that the situation changes there. That means everything from working with them to coming up with an entire new structure.

(END VIDEOTAPE) JOHNS: An administration official is dismissing some of the

assertions coming out of Ferguson tonight suggesting the DOJ report may have added fuel to the climate of tension there. The official told CNN's Pamela Brown that DOJ took steps to roll out the report carefully and that "Ferguson has been broken for months and it's unfair to jump to any conclusion until the shooting suspects are brought to justice."

BLITZER: Joe, thanks very much. Joe Johns reporting.

Let's go back to Ferguson right now.

CNN anchor Don Lemon, he is back on the ground in Ferguson for us. Spent a lot of time there over the past several months.

You are talking to folks on the ground. What are they telling you?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Depends who you talk to.

Wolf, but I want to show you -- we have gotten ourselves in a position to show you what possibly could have happened. We talked about the shots coming from atop of the hill, about 125 yards away from the police department. I just want to show you, this is where we were last time when we were tear gassed back in November. A lot of the media was parked out here.

If you over on the other side of this building, this hill comes all the way up from the front of this building where there's a parking lot. And if you go to the back of the building, you can see here the hill comes up high enough where you can get on top of the building. They have had this fenced off.

Just for our views and for you in THE SITUATION ROOM, Wolf, I want to just show you, 125 yards away, if it did indeed come from this direction, if you look here, the hill comes up on this side as well. We will walk down here from -- to the police department.

This is Tiffin Drive that we're on right now and then it intersects right here Florissant Avenue, which is the police department in front of us. Again, if you look at the parking lot, this is where many people were stationed out last time, where many of the protesters camp out as well. You can see people here who are coming. This is where they grab their food. They come over here to the subway shop.

And, again, a lot of the media parked over here. So, 125 yards away, which is about the size of a football field plus a quarter, that would have to be as you have been talking to people, saying it would have to be a professional person, or someone who knows what they are doing to get this far, especially with what Jon Belmar from the Saint Louis County Police Department said, the chief there saying it would take someone, you know, who knew what they were doing to get a shot off this far.

You can see officers were lined up in front of the police department here just standing in a line cordoned off in front of the police department, protesters in front of them. The police officers behind them. Then once the shots did ring out, officers took protection, took cover behind the barricades, behind the brick walls here. So, 125 yards away, that's pretty far for someone who doesn't really know what they are doing to get off that many shots and to hit two police officers, one in the shoulder and then one in the head.

BLITZER: It would be an amazing shot, indeed. They are saying it was done, Don, with a handgun or pistol, not a rifle. Right?

LEMON: Right now, it's very early on in the investigation. Let's see if we can get across here, again, we will try to cross into traffic here. There we go.

He is saying that it was done with a handgun, because they found casings from bullets that are -- that go along with a handgun. I want to make sure my photographer gets across here. And again that's the barricades here. But if you go back, turn to the right, that's where the media is parked down now, and you go all the way up the hill, that's quite a distance, Wolf, for a handgun.

It would have to be someone who knows what they are doing or would have to be pretty lucky if it did come from any of the direction, any of the places behind these buildings over here. This is the only hill in the area. So it would -- we would assume that it came from this area. But, again, man, would you really have to know what you were doing if you were targeting someone from that distance.

BLITZER: You certainly would. Don, I want you to stand by. We will get back to you shortly.

But let's bring in two leaders of the two preeminent civil rights organizations in the United States.

Joining us, the National Urban League president Marc Morial and the president and CEO of the NAACP Cornell William Brooks.

Gentlemen, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Cornell, how much of a setback is this to what we were hoping we would be able to move on? But, clearly, this is a major, major problem.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: Certainly, this is a tragedy. But I cannot believe that one thuggish opportunist can set back a movement.

We are very much concerned about these officers who have been shot while patrolling and protecting a community not their own, not as a part of their police department or force.

BLITZER: Both of the officers who were shot were from other community police departments, not from Ferguson.

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKS: That's exactly it. They were going the extra mile, if you will, to protect these protesters and the Ferguson community.

But I cannot believe that one thug, one criminal opportunist can set back all of these young people who have been standing for social justice, standing for community policing, standing with the NAACP. I can't believe that. I refuse to believe that.

BLITZER: We have no idea, Marc Morial, who the shooter is. I know there's a massive manhunt under way right now. Presumably, this person is very, very dangerous out there.

We have no idea who it is, although a lot of people are speculating some sort of outside agitators, violent outside agitators may have been responsible. Give me your thoughts.

MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Wolf, here is what I would say.

First of all, I want to express prayers and hopes for the full recovery of those two officers who were injured in this ambush last evening. Secondly, we do not know who conducted this criminal act, who carried out this criminal act yesterday.

And, certainly, there is an investigation which has to continue. We should not jump to judgment on it. I think, thirdly, the underlying issue is that the Ferguson leadership still remains in denial, refuses to accept the idea that this department needs to be changed. And that's why I think disbanding it and starting over or disbanding it and finding another law enforcement agency is, indeed, what is necessary.

These protests are going to continue because the leadership of Ferguson, notwithstanding these small steps with the city manager, the police chief and others, in fact, stepping aside, remains in denial. They have not accepted, they have not offered their hand to work with the Department of Justice to fix the problem, to heal the community and to otherwise get beyond this period.

BLITZER: Cornell, I assume you are pleased that less than an hour from now, Ferguson Police Department is not going to be in charge of security in Ferguson. The highway patrol, the state highway patrol is coming in, the Saint Louis County police, they are coming in. They are taking charge. I assume you welcome that.

BROOKS: We welcome that, because let's be clear about this. After these officers were shot, the central issue in Ferguson remains the same, namely, the safety of our citizens.

And that means whether the citizens are black or brown or they wear uniforms that are blue, we can concerned about the safety of our citizens. So the fact that you have the highway patrol coming in, the county police coming in to ensure the safety of protesters and police officers. We need to be clear about this. These police officers go home at the end of the day to their families. They are members of the community. That's the central issue.

The Department of Justice report was all about fair community- oriented policing. That's what it has been about. That's what it remains about.

BLITZER: I want you to, Cornell Brooks, Marc Morial, please, both of you stand by. We will take a quick break. Much more to discuss, the breaking news out of Ferguson, less than an hour or so from now, the Ferguson Police Department won't be in charge. Outside police officers, they are coming in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the National Urban League president, Marc Morial, and the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.

Gentlemen, stand by. We're getting some new information from our national correspondent, Jason Carroll. He is on the ground in Ferguson.

Jason, what are you learning?

CARROLL: Wolf, we told you about the three people who were brought in for questioning with regards to the shooting out here and released. We told you that I had an opportunity to speak with the three of them.

One of them, Iresha Turner, tells me that she was woken up in the middle of the night, ordered out of bed, ordered out of the house, and found herself begging police not to shoot. I want you to listen to just a brief clip of the interview we conducted with her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IRESHA TURNER, QUESTIONED BY POLICE: I opened the door. The door is open, it's open, it's open, screaming, letting everybody know.

I opened the door. I stood back. I look at my chest. It's a red dot on it. I have my hands up, start crying, please shoot me. I said, I surrendered. I opened the door. Please don't shoot me. He said, come out. I said, are you going to shoot me? He said, no. I just stood there crying. I said, he's going to shoot me. I'm telling him, he's going to shoot me. He walked in front of me. And my son walks in front of him, my son.

(CROSSTALK)

CARROLL: Who is how old?

TURNER: He is 6 years old. He is the reason that I live every day. He got more sense than I have. That little boy walked in front of him and me. And he had beams on my son as well. They said come out with your hands. And they had us do a 360. They had us walk backwards and they had us get on our knees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Again, Wolf, they were questioned for several hours, not only Iresha Turner, But Lamont Underwood, also another man questioned there as well.

They were asked specifically if they knew anything at all about the shooting. They told police repeatedly that they did not know anything about the shooting, did not see the shooters as well. Terrifying moments for that family now at home.

BLITZER: Why did they even pick them up for questioning? What was their suspicion? We saw the cops going up on the roof, they were going in through the roof into this house. It must have been terrifying for the people who live there. But what was the original reason for picking up these three individuals?

CARROLL: It's a good question. What they theorize is when she was out here with the other two last night, she immediately called her grandmother after she heard the gunfire. Her grandmother said, get out of here as soon as you can.

So, what they did was, they all piled into the car and sped away. When someone speeds away from a shooting, sometimes that raises suspicions. So they theorize perhaps that's why police targeted them, their car, which, of course, led to their house. That's what they theorize. But once again, they said not only did they not have anything do with the shooting, they didn't even see who did the shooting. All they saw and heard was the gunfire and then they saw the officers fall -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty terrifying, I'm sure, for these three individuals. Jason, don't go too far away.

Cornell Brooks, you are a lawyer. What's your reaction when you hear that?

BROOKS: It's extraordinary set of very frightening circumstances.

The police have a responsibility to look for suspects and to question them. And they did what they had to do. I'm glad that this family is safe. But we need to be clear. When we have someone who appears to have some degree of training, who is able to get a shot off at 120 yards, wound two police officers, and here is the reality. If you attack a police officer, you pose a threat to the community at large.

I mean, that's reality. One, every 58 days in this country, a police officer loses his or her life in the line of duty. This is a dangerous line of work. But the fact of the matter is, anybody who would target, who would ambush a police officer needs to be apprehended. We need to take any lawful means to do so.

BLITZER: Good point.

Marc Morial, earlier I spoke with one of the supporters of the Ferguson Police Department, who accused the attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, in his words, of pouring kerosene on the fire in the way they released the Justice Department report. I want your reaction. You are the president of the National Urban League. MORIAL: So, I think that's just another indication of people in

Ferguson being in denial.

The attorney general and the Justice Department have a sworn oath to uphold the law and the Constitution. Under the '94 crime bill, they have a right and an obligation to investigate where there's a suggestion of a pattern and practice of constitutional and civil rights violations by a local law enforcement agency.

They did their job. When they do their job, they are not pouring kerosene on anything. It's the denial, it's the obfuscation, it's the obstinance of the Ferguson leadership that continues to make this problem much more difficult. The right thing to do is do what many cities do when faced with this kind of suggestion.

And that is to indicate publicly and very clearly that we are going to work with the department on those corrective action measures necessary to fix our police department, to fix this local law enforcement agency. And I have not seen anyone from Ferguson, anyone in an official capacity make that kind of statement to acknowledge the problems and make a commitment.

This is just denial at its worst. And as long as that denial continues, the community cannot heal. The community cannot come together in the way and in the fashion that I think we all hope it will. So my hope is, is that the leadership of Ferguson and the mayor, who should lead that community, would in fact accept that this report is real, that this report was carefully done and that this report points an important direction with its recommendation on how the Ferguson Police Department can be fixed.

BLITZER: You want to make one final point, Cornell?

BROOKS: Yes. I couldn't agree with Marc more. The fact of the matter is, the mayor had an opportunity the other day to accept responsibility. There are cities across the country which had received these kinds of recommendations and begun to act on them.

What he gave was a statement that represented an apology by implication. That is to say, we acknowledge this report, that there are officials who are leaving as a consequence of that report and that we hope things get better. The fact of the matter is, he could have stepped up and said we have a problem here, a problem that needs to be addressed and these recommendations need to be implemented. He did not do that.

BLITZER: Cornell Brooks of the NAACP, thanks for joining us. Marc Morial of the National Urban League, guys, appreciate it very much.

Let's get some more now. Joining us is Anthony Gray. He's the attorney for the family of Michael Brown, whose death last year sparked the current crisis in Ferguson.

Anthony, thanks very much for joining us. When the family heard about the shooting of these two police officers today, what was their reaction?

ANTHONY GRAY, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF MICHAEL BROWN: I could just put it like this. Nobody was jumping for joy. Nobody was happy about it.

Keep in mind, Wolf, we got into this campaign back in August to fight against what we thought was an injustice that took place then. And we are all about fighting for justice. What happened the other day was an injustice to those officers. Our hearts and our prayers go out to these officers. We wish them a speedy recovery.

It was wrong. And this family along with their representatives such as myself, we don't support wrong. So it's not about whose side you are on in this particular case. It's about what side you are on. We're on the side of fighting for what is right, no matter who the individuals are. I hope that the police do a thorough investigation, locate this lone shooter, or if the person is with a group, locate them all.

I agree with the president of the NAACP. This lone actor should not make everybody out there an enemy combatant. And the police shouldn't treat everyone that's out there as an enemy hostile because you had one person who acted apparently out of some type of motivation last night that was not right.

BLITZER: Speaking for the Michael Brown family, Anthony, what's your message to the protesters? We don't know if they will be showing up tonight or not. We know the police are getting ready, outside police officers from the highway patrol and from the state and from the county, they are coming in to take charge over the Ferguson Police Department.

But what's your message to the protesters who might be assembling even as we speak?

GRAY: Yes, sir.

Our message is the same as it has been, Wolf, since August. To remain peaceful, to remain calm. Those are the kind of things that we have been saying from day one in every setting and at every opportunity. The message remains the same. Those that commit acts of violence like this do not support the family of Mike Brown Jr., are not a part of the campaign for justice for Mike Brown Jr.

They are on their own agenda. They have nothing do with us. And those that support this family and the movement that we started back in August for justice, we ask them to remain peaceful, to remain calm, and to remain nonviolent tomorrow and beyond. Today, tomorrow and beyond.

BLITZER: Has the mayor reached out to the family in recent days or ever, for that matter?

GRAY: No. Not that I'm aware of. There may have been different channels of communication, and I don't want to speak to those. But from my knowledge as I sit here and speak to you today, I'm unaware of any direct attempts by the mayor to speak with family members of -- the mother or father of Mike Brown Jr.

BLITZER: Should the mayor resign?

GRAY: I think that I will leave that up to the mayor ultimately. But, yes, a change in leadership is required. If you ask me my opinion about that, I think I'm pretty bold in what I've said before in the past, and I will stand on that today. I think that there should be a from top to bottom reform of the whole police department that will include major individuals in leadership.

And I think it's in the best interests of Ferguson for that to happen. And if the mayor doesn't think it's in the best interest of Ferguson, then he has the Ferguson constituents to deal with, based on his conclusions.

BLITZER: All right. Anthony Gray is the attorney for Michael Brown's family.

Anthony, thanks very much for joining us.

GRAY: No problem, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're getting back to the breaking news. We'll go back live to the streets of Ferguson, where state and county are now poised to take over security amid serious fears for the safety of city police and of civilians.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The breaking news, we've just learned that the Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, traveled to St. Louis County today, which includes, of course, the city of Ferguson, where those two police officers were shot last night.

According to a news release, Nixon was briefed on the situation by law enforcement officials. He's calling for calm tonight.

Let's get some more. Joining us, CNN's Don Lemon. He's on the ground in Ferguson. Also the community activist John Gaskin; our law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes; our legal analyst, Sunny Hostin; our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Don, I know you had a chance just a little while ago to speak with a resident. Let me play a little bit of that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's ridiculous what's going on. I mean, last night was horrible. Of course, we all just want to raise our kids, go to work, go to work, be safe and be peaceful. I mean, come on now. We got to -- it has to end somewhere.

The protest is fine. Justice is fine. But how are we going to get justice and we're shooting and killing police? You know? It's just -- it's not going to work. It's not going to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Don...

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: That was Kiesha (ph). She didn't want her face to be on camera, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

LEMON: Sorry. Go ahead.

BLITZER: I was just going to say, give us a little background.

LEMON: She didn't want her face on camera because she said, "I don't want that much publicity. But I want to tell you what's going on." She was walking with her -- I think a 1-year-old. And they were just trying to get to the supermarket. The police was all cordoned off.

And she said, "Listen, I understand that the protesters are upset. I understand why people are upset." She said, "But there are changes that are happening incrementally, and we should be a little bit more patient."

And basically, she said, "We want our neighborhood back." She said the people who are out protesting, many don't live in the neighborhood. She said the ones who do live in the neighborhood, they're out and they're protesting peacefully. And they don't want anything to do with blocking off traffic and what have you.

And that's kind of the disconnect that you have between some of the protesters and some of the residents here.

Wolf, I have some new information, two pieces of information that I want to give you. While I'm standing here in front of the police department, I have been told through sources that they have added an extra detail, that that detail will -- there will be a shift change soon. And that detail will be spoken to by members of either the Missouri Highway Patrol or the St. Louis County Police Department as to what they want. They want them to go home, obviously, at the end of the night. They will tell them to be safe, careful. That will happen here or right here right next door at the fire station.

But again, I want to give you a perspective. Standing in front of the police department, you see the barricades here. Basically where we have traffic now, there was no traffic happening last night. And police officers line up in front of the police station. And they just stand here to cordon off the police station, put a line in front of the police station. The protesters are in the middle of the street, maybe on the other side.

If you look up the hill here from this area, not exactly sure where, that is that 125-yard area where they believe the bullets came from that hit the two police officers. And if you look at the homes here -- I've been speaking to my -- producer has been speaking to some of the people who live in those homes, asked them if they heard or saw anything. They said, "Yes, we heard something. We saw something. And any of the information that we heard or saw we gave to the FBI."

So we know that the FBI has been here investigating and speaking to the people who live in the neighborhood. But right now, shift change about to happen here shortly. And they're going to be spoken to by the higher ups who have now taken over the protection of the citizens here in Ferguson, Wolf.

BLITZER: So Don, the two police officers who were shot last night, one in the face, one in the shoulder, they were effectively standing right near where you're standing right now, is that right?

LEMON: Yes. I spoke to some of the protesters who were out here and also spoke to police sources who say they were standing right out in front here. Some of the people were standing right -- there's a sign -- the sign that says city of Ferguson, police department, they were standing on the walkway there.

And they said as they were standing in front, if you go this way, as I said, right here where the traffic is, that's where the police officers usually stand. As they were standing in front, one woman told me -- she was a protester, she's been there, she lives here -- she says, "I hunt deer. I know. I heard the shot. I heard the bang. The shots whiz over my head. I saw one police officer. He was bleeding from the jaw. She said she didn't know that the other officer was shot.

And then there was chaos. Officers started -- they got on their knees. They crouched behind the barricades. They crouched behind the brick wall over here with guns drawn. And then those who were here who weren't, you know, protecting the rest came out to help the police officers, offer assistance to the other police officers.

But again, everyone who is here is saying, especially if they had knowledge about shooting a weapon, that in order to get off a shot that far, Wolf, all the way up that hill, 125 yards away, it would have to be someone who knows their way around a gun, a handgun, a shotgun, what have you.

But as you hear the police chief of St. Louis County say, he believes that it was a handgun. They found casings from bullets here in front of the police department.

BLITZER: All right, Don. I want you to stand by.

Tom Fuentes is our law enforcement analyst, former assistant director of the FBI. A hundred twenty-five yards they say it was a handgun. A lot of skepticism out there, as you know, that someone can shoot that precisely, hit a cop in the face, another cop in the shoulder with a handgun from 125 yards. That's longer than a football field. Do you think it's possible?

FUENTES: It's possible, Wolf, having been a firearm instructor for the police and in the FBI and a SWAT team member. A skilled shooter, a military veteran might have the skill to do a shot like that or shoot four times and hit two police officers side by side. It's still a remarkable shot. BLITZER: John Gaskin, the community there, give us a little

flavor of what's going on, what we should be bracing for. Because you're a community activist. A lot of us are concerned what could be happening in the next few hours.

JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, many activists that are my age and have been out and about that have been committed to this for the last 215 days are making it clear that the peaceful protesters are not a part of this. We are disassociating ourselves with any type of action that is violent or any type of outside agitators that may want to come in and upstage a situation.

What we saw last night sets us back. We can't allow those type of blunders to take over what we worked so hard for. There are changes that are coming. But it is my hope that tonight people will remain calm, and cooler heads will prevail as people are smart about what it is that they're doing and ensuring no one is injured tonight, hopefully.

BLITZER: What's of deep, deep concern is there's a shooter at large right now. Obviously, well-trained, a marksman who has a weapon. So people are obviously concerned.

Jeffrey, you heard the attorney general the other day, Eric Holder, say he's prepared to dismantle the Ferguson Police Department. Is that what needs to happen right now, the reinstate some confidence and order in the community?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, ending a police department, shutting it down is a very complicated process. And it is not something that could be done overnight.

It seems to me that what needs to be done now is to have everybody calm down and try to ratchet tensions down and then, in an orderly way discuss what, if any, is the future of the Ferguson Police Department.

But it is simple -- simply a practical impossibility that, during this immediate crisis following this horrible shooting of these police officers, that could you get a new police department in place. It just can't be done overnight. That's a multi-month process.

BLITZER: Stand by. Everybody stand by. By the way, these are live pictures coming in from Ferguson right now. County police coming in. This is going to be a shift change. County police, Missouri State Highway Patrol, they're about, in the next 15 or so, to take over security responsibilities in the city of Ferguson. Clearly, not a lot of confidence in the cops in Ferguson itself.

Sunny, stand by. We're going to get much more on what's going on. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of Ferguson. Right now, local police, the Ferguson police, they are handing over security responsibilities to outside law enforcement agencies following the shooting of those two police officers. A manhunt is now under way for the shooter who remains at large.

Don Lemon, you're there right near the police station. I guess the state troopers are coming in, the county police, Ferguson police will still do some routine responsibilities, but the big chore will result -- will lay with these other outside law enforcement authorities.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Right on, Wolf. And we have been standing here, watching for the past 15 minutes or so. We watch, usually, they would come right in through the front of the police department. But they've been going around the back of the police department, members of the St. Louis County and the Missouri Highway Patrol. And there you see them there getting ready for shift change.

The members of the Ferguson police department will be here for routine calls but as far as security and patrol for protesters and the big picture, that's going to be St. Louis County and the Missouri Highway Patrol. We're expecting some high ranking members to give them a pep talk before they go out for special detail, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Sunny Hostin, you know, what worries me is there's a shooter at large who clearly is a marksman, got a weapon, presumably lots of ammunition. I'm worried about that, and I assume everyone else is as well.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No question about it. I mean, you have two law enforcement officers shot, ambushed and from such large distance. And so, it does appear to be someone that knows how to shoot, someone that is trained in shooting.

But I also think that the right thing is being done quite frankly by having the Ferguson Police Department take a step back.

I have to disagree with Jeff, my friend Jeff Toobin, in that I think now is the time, quite frankly, to have the Ferguson police department disbanded. We're only talking about a very small police department, only about 50 officers. And with the crisis in confidence at this point and the fact that this damning report came out, that there's a sort of practice and pattern of discrimination, they cannot police this community. I think it makes it dangerous for the residents and dangerously clearly for the officers for that department to be continued.

When you look at the 26 recommendations made by the Department of Justice, those are wholesale reforms of the department. They are very expensive to implement. And now that the city of Ferguson cannot tax really the residents for that work, that work can't be done. And so, I suspect that the right thing to do right now is to disband that police department. It would be safest for everyone.

BLITZER: All right. Sunny, stand by. Everyone, stand by.

That shift change is taking place outside law enforcement coming into Ferguson. Ferguson Police Department will assume secondary responsibilities.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking news in Ferguson, St. Louis County police and Missouri Highway Patrol officers, they are about to take over protest security there after two officers were shot, sparking a manhunt that continues right now.

Let's go to police headquarters in Ferguson.

Don, set the scene for us for what's going on right now.

LEMON: OK. So, starting about 30 minutes ago, members of the St. Louis County Police Department and also the Missouri Highway Patrol, you can see some of them about to go in there. They have been making their way here to the Ferguson Police Department. Really, they're going to hold their meeting for this special task force inside the fire department. That's the fire department and they're all gathering inside of there.

Also, I want to tell you that -- you know, I know that several high ranking members from the Missouri Highway Patrol and also from the St. Louis County Police Department are going to come out and give this special task force a pep talk. I can safely say it's going to be Ron Jackson and Chief Belmar that will come out. And what they're basically going to tell them is to be smart, to be careful.

At the end of this shift, they want to go home to their families. Don't get involved unless you have to and to use restraint and to be smart. I also want to point out here, if you look at these barricades, these barricades weren't always here in front of the Ferguson Police Department, in front of the fire department.

And, you know, Wolf, considering what happened last night, this is really going to be a real test. It's almost sun down. You have a lot of people here who are still angry. There are a lot of protesters who are going to gather. They have called for a prayer vigil tonight, and according to some of the folks here, they believe that it's going to be a big crowd that comes along. So, that will be a real test for this special task force that's inside a meeting right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Tom Fuentes, the police officers are about to take charge over there. They must be scared. There's a shooter at large who's armed and dangerous.

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure. They're human. They'd be afraid that the shooter that did last night's shooting is still out there. Copy cats could jump in. White supremacist groups from other parts of Missouri could come in and cause trouble and mayhem and cause the police to try to shoot at the crowd or create a bigger mob scene situation.

So, there's all kinds of danger for the police officers and the protesters who are going to be trying to maintain the peace tonight. BLITZER: Very quickly, I want to get John Gaskin.

Who's in charge for all practical purposes in Ferguson, John?

JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: In terms of activists or do you mean in terms of law enforcement?

BLITZER: Law enforcement. I assume it's the county and highway patrol right now?

GASKIN: Right. It would be St. Louis County and the Missouri Highway Patrol.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by for a minute. Everybody, stand by. We're going to have a lot more throughout the night. It's still a dangerous situation in Ferguson.

Don't forget Don will be back with a lot more throughout the evening and, of course, at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for "CNN TONIGHT". You'll want to see his special report.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.