US Attorney General Holder was to visit Ferguson, Missouri

Black leaders' question impartiality of head of investigation who has family ties to the police

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 August, 2014, 9:09pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 August, 2014, 9:57am

Protesters gathered outside the building where a grand jury could begin hearing evidence to determine if a while police officer who shot dead an unarmed black teen should be charged, as US Attorney General Eric Holder made his way to the trouble St Louis suburb of Ferguson.

Outside the St Louis County Justice Centre, where the grand jury was expected to convene, two dozen protesters gathered in a circle for a prayer, chanted, and held signs urging prosecutor Bob McCulloch to step aside. Nearly two dozen officers guarded the main entrance.

Watch: Protesters demand the arrest of cop who killed black teen

McCulloch's deep family connections to police have been cited by some black leaders who question his ability to be impartial in the case of Darren Wilson - the white officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, 18, on August 9. McCulloch's father, mother, brother, uncle and cousin all worked for the St Louis Police Department, and his father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.

The prosecutor, who is white, has insisted his background will have no bearing on the handling of the case. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said he would not seek McCulloch's removal, citing the "well-established process" by which prosecutors can recuse themselves to make way for a special prosecutor.

After a string of rancorous nighttime protests, Tuesday night was much more subdued, with smaller crowds, fewer confrontations and no tear gas. Police said they still made 47 arrests, mainly people who defied orders to disperse.

The easing of tensions preceded Holder's visit during which he was to meet with FBI and other officials carrying out an independent federal investigation, and with community leaders.

In a letter published on the St Louis Post-Dispatch website, Holder promised a thorough investigation while calling for an end to the violence in Ferguson.

The Justice Department has mounted an unusually swift and aggressive response to Brown's death, from conducting an independent autopsy to sending dozens of FBI agents to Ferguson in search of witnesses.

Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that Brown's funeral would be held on Monday.