By Alan Scher Zagier and David A. Lieb , AP
ST. LOUIS, Missouri–Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday appointed a new state public safety director, giving his administration its only black Cabinet member nearly three weeks after the shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer led to violent protests in a St. Louis suburb.
The governor said former St. Louis police Chief Daniel Isom II will take over as director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety on Sept. 1. He will replace Jerry Lee, who resigned after almost three years as director.
The appointment comes after Nixon faced criticism both for the lack of racial diversity among his department leaders and for the state’s response to protesters and looters following the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
Nixon did not directly say whether the leadership change was related to the events in Ferguson. He said Isom “has experience and training in law enforcement that are almost unmatched.” Nixon also denied forcing Lee to resign.
“I work constantly to try to make sure we have a government that reflects the citizens of the state,” Nixon said at a St. Louis press conference that abruptly ended after he had fielded only a few questions.
In the immediate days after Brown’s shooting, local police in riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who refused to disperse and, at times, broke into nearby stores. Nixon eventually placed the State Highway Patrol in charge of securing Ferguson with a more relaxed approach. After one relatively calm night, however, police stood by as people again looted stores. Nixon then imposed a curfew, lifted it after a couple of nights of clashes between police and protesters, and called in the National Guard.
The ordeal has prompted thousands of people, from Los Angeles and New York to places overseas, to donate nearly US$700,000 toward the online fundraising sites of both Brown and Wilson, the money mostly going toward living expenses.
Tensions have lessened in recent days, but Nixon did not say Wednesday how long the patrol would remain in charge of securing the neighborhood near where Brown was shot.
Later Wednesday, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson announced that the Guard and police from the city of St. Louis had completed their departure from Ferguson. Johnson declined to discuss when state troopers would cede authority in the West Florissant Avenue commercial corridor to local police, though he did say that fewer troopers are on the ground now.
The public safety director oversees both the patrol and the guard. He also oversees the State Emergency Management Agency, which deals with natural disasters and other programs such as veterans’ nursing homes and casino regulations.