The Governor of Missouri ordered the National Guard to a suburb of St Louis today, hours after police used tear gas to clear protesters off the streets following a week of demonstrations against the fatal police shooting of a black teenager.
In a statement, Governor Jay Nixon said the National Guard would “help restore peace and order” to Ferguson, which has been filled almost nightly with angry, defiant crowds.
The latest confrontation came on the same day that Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a federal medical examiner to perform another post mortem examination on Michael Brown who was shot dead by a white officer.
A preliminary private post mortem found that the 18-year-old was shot at least six times, including twice in the head.
As night fell in Ferguson, another peaceful protest quickly deteriorated after marchers pushed towards one end of a street. Police pushed them back by repeatedly firing tear gas, and the streets were empty well before a curfew took effect at midnight.
Authorities said they were responding to reports of gunfire, looting, vandalism and protesters who hurled Molotov cocktails.
“Based on the conditions, I had no alternative but to elevate the level of response,” said Captain Ron Johnson, of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is in command in Ferguson.
At least two people were wounded in shootings, he said.
The “extraordinary circumstances” surrounding the death of Mr Brown and a request by his family prompted the Justice Department’s decision to carry outh a third post-mortem, agency spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement.
The examination will take place as soon as possible, he added.
The results of a state-performed post-mortem will be taken into account along with the federal examination in the Justice Department investigation, Mr Fallon said.
Dr Michael Baden, a former New York City chief medical examiner, told The New York Times that one of the bullets entered the top of Mr Brown’s skull, suggesting that his head was bent forward when he suffered a fatal injury.
The teenager was also shot four times in the right arm, and all the bullets were fired into his front, Dr Baden said.
The Justice Department had already extended its civil rights investigation into the shooting. A day earlier, officials said 40 FBI agents were going door to door gathering information in the Ferguson neighbourhood where Mr Brown, who was unarmed, was shot dead on August 9.
A federally conducted post-mortem examination “more closely focused on entry point of projectiles, defensive wounds and bruises” might help that investigation, said David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor who supervised the criminal civil rights section of Miami’s US attorney’s office. The move is “not that unusual”, he added.
Federal authorities also want to calm any public fears that no action will be taken on the case, Mr Weinstein said.
Yesterday’s clashes in Ferguson erupted three hours before the midnight curfew imposed by Governor Nixon.
Officers in riot gear ordered all the protesters to disperse. Many of the marchers retreated, but a group of about 100 stood defiantly about two blocks away until getting hit by another volley of tear gas.
Protesters laid a line of cinder blocks across the street near the QuikTrip convenience store that was burned down last week. It was an apparent attempt to block police vehicles, but the vehicles easily ploughed through. Someone set a nearby rubbish bin on fire, and the crackle of gunfire could be heard from several blocks away.
Within two hours, most people had been cleared off a main thoroughfare. The streets remained quiet as the curfew began. It was to remain in effect until 5am.
Earlier in the day, Capt Johnson said he had met members of Mr Brown’s family and the experience “brought tears to my eyes and shame to my heart”.
“When this is over,” he told the crowd, “I’m going to go in my son’s room. My black son, who wears his pants sagging, who wears his hat cocked to the side, got tattoos on his arms, but that’s my baby.”
He added: “We all need to thank the Browns for Michael, because Michael’s going to make it better for our sons to be better black men.”
The protests have been going on since Mr Brown’s death heightened racial tensions between the predominantly black community and the mostly white Ferguson Police Department, leading to several run-ins between police and protesters and prompting Missouri’s governor to put the state highway patrol in charge of security.
Ferguson police waited six days to publicly reveal the name of the officer and documents alleging that Mr Brown robbed a convenience store shortly before he was killed. Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the officer did not know Mr Brown was a robbery suspect when he encountered him walking in the street with a friend.
Governor Nixon told ABC’s This Week that he was not aware the police were going to release surveillance video from the store where Brown is alleged to have stolen a $49 box of cigars.
“It’s appeared to cast aspersions on a young man that was gunned down in the street. It made emotions raw,” he said.
Police have said little about the encounter between Mr Brown and the officer, except to say that it involved a scuffle in which the officer was injured and the teenager was shot. Witnesses said Mr Brown had his hands in the air as the officer fired multiple rounds.
The officer who shot Mr Brown has been identified as Darren Wilson, a six-year police veteran who had no previous complaints against him. He has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, and the department has refused to say anything about his whereabouts.
Also yesterday, about 150 people gathered in St Louis to show support for Mr Wilson. The crowd protested outside a TV station because it had broadcast from in front of the officer’s home.
The St Louis Post-Dispatch said the station, KSDK, later apologised.
Others in the group, composed mostly of police and relatives of officers, carried signs urging people to wait for all the facts.