FERGUSON, Mo. – President Barack Obama on Monday dispatched the attorney general to personally oversee the government's response to the fatal police shooting 10 days ago of an unarmed black teenager, the latest step in an extensive federal investigation that was expanding even as National Guard troops moved onto the restive streets of this St. Louis suburb.
Attorney General Eric Holder will meet Wednesday in Ferguson with some of the FBI agents and prosecutors who have already interviewed more than 200 people as they scour the area where 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer. Holder pledged “the full resources” of his department to investigate Brown's death, which has triggered unrest so severe that Missouri's governor on Monday called in the state's National Guard.
Behind the scenes, the administration worked to reassure some in the civil rights community that the nation's first black president sees the Ferguson crisis as an important moment. In a conference call Monday with civil rights groups, Holder and White House adviser Valerie Jarrett – perhaps Obama's closest confidant – said the case is a top priority.
Holder said the investigators are trying to determine if there is enough evidence that Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson used excessive force and deprived Brown of his civil rights to support a federal criminal prosecution.
A senior federal law enforcement official said in an interview that the FBI's St. Louis field office has spoken to residents with information about the shooting who had not talked to local investigators.
The federal probe, the official said, is “moving swiftly.”
The developments came on a day when Obama addressed the chaos in Ferguson in starkly emotional terms at the White House, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, lifted the overnight curfew he had imposed on Ferguson, saying the imminent arrival of the National Guard would help restore order.
The day also featured revelations from competing autopsies of Brown's body – the official St. Louis County autopsy and another one requested by his family – both of which concluded that the teenager had been shot six times.
Holder said a third autopsy was conducted Monday by the U.S. military.
Nixon had ordered the midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew two days earlier after a week of clashes between demonstrators and police following Brown's death on Aug. 9. He brought in National Guard troops after the most chaotic night yet Sunday, one marked by protesters shooting and throwing Molotov cocktails at police, and officers deploying tear gas.
Monday, the Guard's role contributed to what appeared to be the latest example of federal-state tensions in the response to Brown's death, which is also being investigated by state officials. A White House official said Nixon did not notify the administration before announcing his decision to call up the Guard.
And at his White House news conference, Obama was notably cool in his response and offered only lukewarm support.
The president said he had told Nixon in a phone call Monday that the Guard should be “used in a limited and appropriate way,” and he told reporters that he will be watching in the coming days “to assess whether in fact it is helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson.”
While conducting three autopsies of the same body is highly unusual, experts said experienced forensic pathologists would have no trouble performing an accurate additional examination. They said, however, that it's unlikely that the subsequent examinations would uncover substantial factual differences.
Indeed, the autopsy by St. Louis County Chief Medical Examiner Mary Case and the private one sought by Brown's family yielded results that “sound consistent,” according to Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Brown's family.
Case's review, released to state prosecutors late Friday, found that Brown had six gunshot wounds to the head and chest and was shot from the front, people familiar with the autopsy said. It also showed that Brown had marijuana in his system, they said.