Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson Press Conference, 2:21 am, August 19, 2014
Captain Ron Johnson: I want to begin by thanking the brave men and women of law enforcement who tonight took another strong step forward in restoring order to the city of Ferguson. Throughout the night, these officers acted with restraint and calm, despite pockets of disorder and coming under violent attacks on several occasions.
Tonight began peacefully with calm and orderly protests. Other law enforcement officers and I interacted on numerous occasions with protesters who shook hands with officers and expressed their opinions. This was the freedom of expression that we are committed to protecting.
At 9:40 pm more than 200 people walked toward police officers at the corner of West Florissant and Ferguson Avenue. They were loud but not aggressive. They came to the line of police officers, chanted, and then seemed to be turning around and thinning out.
Police did not react. In fact, several of the protesters encouraged the crowd to turn around, indicating their message had been heard, but that's when bottles were thrown from the middle and the back of a large crowd that gathered near and within the media staging area.
These criminal acts came from a tiny minority of lawbreakers, but anyone who has been at these protests understands that there is a dangerous dynamic in the night. It allows a small number of violent agitators to hide in the crowd and then attempt to create chaos. The catalyst can be bottles thrown, Molotov cocktails, and of course shots fired. Protesters are peaceful and respectful. Protesters don't clash with police. They don't throw Molotov cocktails. It is criminals who throw Molotov cocktails and fire shots that endangers lives and property.
In the dark of night, there were at least two people shot. We have been criticized for using SWAT trucks during protests. We did not deploy those into the crowd until things deteriorated, and tonight we used a SWAT truck and another large vehicle to get into a violent, dangerous area to extract a gunshot victim. Those vehicles not only provide protection for officers, tonight they helped us get people who were wounded by gunfire and get them to safety.
Tonight there were numerous reports of shots fired, we had two fires, one at a business and one at an unoccupied residence. In the area of West Florissant and Canfield, our officers came under heavy gunfire. Our officer confiscated two guns during a car stop near the media staging area.
These are not acts of protesters, but acts of violent criminals. Our officers acted with professionalism. Once again, not a single bullet fired by officers, despite coming under heavy attack. Four St. Louis county police officers were hit by rocks and bottles and sustained injury.
Because of the dangers posed tonight, I want to encourage the good people of this area to come out and protest tomorrow during the daytime hours. Make your voices heard when you can be seen and you’re not the cover for violent agitators. That is my suggestion. I'd like the people concerned about peace in Ferguson to consider that.
As of 2:00 am, 31 people have been arrested tonight. I've said that many a criminal element that have been coming through Ferguson are not from this area. Tonight some of those arrested came from as far away as New York and California.
I want to address the role of the media in what is going on here. Tonight, media repeatedly had to be asked to return to the sidewalks and get out of the streets when clashes were going on in the streets. If these situations are going on, we need to have that area clear. This is a matter of your safety and the safety of others. We need the roads clear, so that we can safely and quickly remove vehicles to other sectors where people are under threat.
Clearing the roads is a matter of safety. Please clear the roads when asked. Please don't interfere with officers, and let's give attention to the peaceful, not to those determined to disrupt and call attention to themselves. Let's not glamorize the acts of criminals.
Finally, I want to say I am inspired once again tonight by the citizens of this area, who with courage stood in chaotic situations and encouraged the peaceful demonstrations to move on to other areas within the situation as it was deteriorating. They are part of the energy and goodness of this community.
That energy can light up and inspire, and it can help us move past violence. Let us do that together. The people of this community deserve that. The businesses here in Ferguson and all of North County deserve that. We all deserve that.
I want to thank Mrs. Tijera who I saw cleaning up bottles; she came all the way from South County to clean up the streets of West Florissant.
On the table you see two guns that we confiscated tonight. These guns were in a vehicle that we approached that was right across, or near, the media area where each of you were standing. The vehicle pulled into a parking lot, had its windows down, and prior to pulling there, our air unit had followed that vehicle as it had fired shots near the Canfield Apartment. And when our officers approached that vehicle, several of you from the media, who were at the location of West Florissant and Ferguson, began to cross the street and take pictures and walk up, prior to our officers securing that vehicle.
Here on the table, we also found this Molotov cocktail tonight, and many of these were thrown last night and today. I've talked to many of you in the media that says you have not seen these being thrown. Many of our peaceful protesters haven't seen these, because a lot of times they're thrown without their knowledge, and as many of you saw today who were staged at West Florissant and Ferguson, you saw the bottles — the frozen bottles, the glass.
We also had one individual who walked between us, law enforcement, as we were standing there lined up across the street, and threw down a firework device that was a bang, in an attempt to agitate the crowd as if law enforcement was throwing out some object.
I will take a few questions.
Question: You hinted that you wanted people to protest tomorrow during the daylight hours. Are you suggesting a possible curfew tomorrow?
Capt. Johnson: No, sir. What I want is, our peaceful protesters to come in the daytime. All these criminals at night, that are masking themselves, and hiding themselves behind peace: let them come at night so we can identify them, so we can take them away from our community, and put them away and make our streets clear, so they can no longer mask themselves behind the peaceful protesters, and define this city. And I'd ask you [reporters] not to glamorize their activities.
Question: And if they come at night? What happen? And if protesters — pacific protesters — come during the night, what happen?
Capt. Johnson: I would ask that they come in the daytime. I would ask.
Question: And if they come at night?
Capt. Johnson: If they come at night, they have a right to be here. But I'm asking them, for their safety, the safety of the kids that they bring out, and for our attempt to put this neighborhood back together — back together — come during the day, and let us deal with those that are bent on ruining our community and not let them mask themselves behind you.
Question: You said there was no curfew tonight, and yet at about midnight, you all sent everyone along on their way. How is that not a curfew?
Capt. Johnson: We did not have a curfew tonight, and, matter of fact, we told some of the protesters that they could stay as long as they wanted, but after safety was a concern — it just happened to happen at midnight — and so because safety was a concern — and you know, you were out there, you saw the chaos, you saw the shootings. We just had officers in the midst of gunfire. We had officers in the midst of gunfire, and I guarantee you those officers' wives and husbands and parents are calling them now. I stood there and listened over the radio and heard the screams of those officers who were under gunfire. I went back to our SWAT vehicle and saw the gentleman laying in the back who had been shot. I saw a car pull up and drop a gentleman off that had been shot in the hand, that was dazed, walking down the street. We can't have this. We do not want any citizen hurt, we don't want any officer hurt, but when you're shooting in apartment complexes, and children are lying in their bed in apartment complexes, and bullets are flying through the air, the old saying on the streets, as they say, “A bullet has no name.” We do not want to lose another life in this community.
Question: Why are our First Amendment rights being infringed upon? I know the risk involved. I served in combat.
Capt. Johnson: I'm going to tell you, in the midst of chaos, when officers are running around, we're not sure who's a journalist and who's not. And yes, if I see somebody with a $50,000 camera on his shoulder, I'm pretty sure, but some journalists are walking around and all you have is a cellphone, because you're from a small media outlet, some of you may just have a camera around your neck. So yes, we are, we may take some of you into custody, but when we do take you into custody and we have found out that you're a journalist, we have taken the proper action. But in the midst of it, in the midst of chaos and trying to move people on, we have to be safe. We have to be safe.
And we are providing protection for journalists. We had a journalist who was trapped in the midst of that gunfire, in the midst of that chaos, and we're providing protection for them. We took journalists back to their trucks. But I'm going to tell you, this nation is watching each and every one of us. This nation is watching law enforcement and this nation is watching our media. And I'm going to tell you, if we're going to solve this, we're going to have to do it together. We're going to have to do it together. And I want you to think about that tonight. We're going to have to do it together.
But I can tell you, I talked to one journalist today, and he talked about us using our SWAT vehicles and the SWAT outfits that they have on. But I told him, the other night, when we stood on that line, and those businesses were being looted, and now those families are saying, “We cannot rebound from those — we can't rebound. It's ruined our livelihood,” and we stood there.
And the next day, I woke up and the media station said that we did not do enough, and I stood on that line and officers were crying, and officers were angry at me for standing on that line and letting that happen. And today some of those officers walked by me, because they’re hurt, and they're ashamed that we stood there, and I'm telling you, we're going to make this neighborhood whole. We are going to make this community whole, and we're going to do it together. And I am not going to let the criminals that have come out here from across this country or live in this community, define this neighborhood and define what we're going to do to make it right. Have a great day.