National Guard withdraws from Ferguson, Missouri

As Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard to begin withdrawing from this St. Louis suburb Thursday, the persistent protests over the police killing of Michael Brown appeared smaller and much more subdued for the second night in a row.

About 75 demonstrators marched along West Florissant Avenue, at times posing for TV cameras and journalists. For a while, they were joined by State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who is in charge of the police response, and by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

“We'll look forward to another nice and calm night of protests,” Johnson said.

McCaskill joined the demonstrators for about half an hour. Asked whether the governor should remove St. Louis County Prosecuting Atty. Robert McCulloch from the case,  as some have urged, she did not answer directly.

 “He certainly has the power,” said McCaskill, a former prosecutor herself. “I understand there's a perception out there that he [McCulloch] will not be fair. The governor has the power to remove him, and he should make a clear decision.”

Nixon issued a somewhat ambiguous statement on the subject this week, but told MSNBC Thursday night that he would not remove McCulloch and appoint a special prosecutor.

Brown's family and protesters are demanding that the local criminal probe be turned over to a special prosecutor, saying McCulloch has a record of discriminatory handling of cases involving police accused of misconduct against blacks.

McCulloch, whose father was a police officer killed in the line of duty by a black man, has promised a fair and impartial investigation.

The National Guard was deployed in Ferguson on Monday, but its role was low-key, protecting the police command center and monitoring the protests. By Wednesday night, the number of demonstrators had dwindled and the intersection of Ferguson and West Florissant avenues, epicenter of the unrest, had calmed.

Nixon said in a statement that the situation had “greatly improved, with fewer incidents of outside instigators interfering with peaceful protesters, and fewer acts of violence.”

Also Thursday, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. indicated that the Justice Department may broaden its review of Brown's death to investigate other allegations of police abuses in Ferguson.

“We have been working, I think, very diligently out there,” said Holder, who spent Wednesday in Ferguson. “I got a briefing from the FBI agents and the prosecutors who are involved in this case, and I think significant progress has been made.”

Asked if the Justice Department will broaden the Brown investigation to conduct a more thorough review of police practices in Ferguson, Holder said the department had “a number of tools” it can use in police misconduct cases.

 “I’ll just say at this point that we are keeping all of our options open,” he said.

Other potential abuse cases in Ferguson include a September 2011 incident in which a mentally disturbed man died after being tased by officers, and another case in 2009, when a man was allegedly beaten by four officers, then charged with damaging government property because he bled on their uniforms.

Even as scores of boisterous but peaceful protesters returned to the streets, Brown's father, Michael Brown Sr., urged demonstrators during a CNN interview "to go back to your regular life."

He expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support but criticized thugs and outside agitators who police have blamed for much of the lawlessness surrounding earlier protests.

"This looting, all this other stuff ... it's not helping our boy. It's doing nothing but causing more pain, plus it's shaming his name," Brown's father said. "Go back home to your family ... Hug your kids. Hold onto them tight. Keep them close."

Ferguson erupted in anger after the teenager's slaying, with nightly rallies frequently punctuated by looting, vandalism and clashes between protesters and heavily armed riot police, often ending in volleys of tear gas and dozens of arrests.

Brown's parents told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday that they had no confidence in any investigation into their son’s death until they met with Holder on Wednesday.

"Just hearing the words come directly from his mouth, face-to-face, made me feel like, one day, I will," she told CNN on Thursday. "And I'm not saying today, or yesterday, but one day, they will regain my trust."

Michael Brown Sr. said that if the family is to find justice, Wilson must go to jail.

“He has his life,” Brown said. “Our son is gone.”

Back on the streets Thursday night, the atmosphere remained calm.

“It's peaceful, and that's one thing to be happy about,” said Caitlin Fair, a graduate student from New Jersey, who came to Missouri on Monday to join the protests. “Justice still must be served.”

Brown's parents and supporters have been calling for the immediate arrest of Darren Wilson, 28, the police officer who shot their son. Wilson has been placed on leave and has gone into seclusion.

A local grand jury met on Wednesday to begin hearing evidence in the Brown case, a process that St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch said could last into mid-October.

Reuters and Los Angeles Times contributed.