School officials concerned about students being waylaid by protests are asking the St. Louis County prosecutor to wait until classes are not in session to announce whether a white police officer will face charges for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.
A grand jury is expected to decide by mid-November whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown. The shooting led to weeks of sometimes violent protests in and around the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson and spurred a national conversation about race and policing. Law enforcement officials are already bracing for potential fallout from the decision.
Last week, Riverview Gardens School District Superintendent Scott Spurgeon sent a letter signed by six other superintendents asking St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch to announce the grand jury decision after 5 p.m. or on a weekend, preferably a Sunday, when there are typically no school activities or functions.
Riverview Gardens spokeswoman Melanie Powell-Robinson said there have been no threats against students but there is concern that protests could make it hard for them to get to or from school or for parents to pick them up because of traffic and road closures. While most students from Ferguson attend the Ferguson-Florissant district, some attend Riverview Gardens.
The letter from Spurgeon is also signed by superintendents from the Ferguson-Florissant, Hazelwood, Jennings, Kirkwood, Mehlville and Normandy school districts, which together have about 20,000 students.
“Information released during the school day has the potential to greatly affect school district operations and we implore you to refrain from making a grand jury announcement until such time as we can provide safe passage home for all students,” it said.
The start of the school year in Ferguson was delayed by more than a week in August because of concerns about student safety stemming from the protests.
A spokesman for McCulloch said Tuesday the superintendents’ concerns are being considered. His office has not provided a timetable for announcing the grand jury decision once it is reached.
To prepare for protests that could follow, law enforcement officers have been trying to build relationships with clergy and community leaders that could ease tensions on the streets while also stocking up on riot gear and establishing procedures for quick arrests.
Many protesters want Wilson indicted for murder. The grand jury can choose first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter or no charges at all. Nine of the 12 members must agree for Wilson to be indicted.
Wilson’s extended absence has led county prosecutors to drop six felony drug cases in which he was involved, including a 2013 marijuana arrest for which he received a commendation from the Ferguson City Council.
McCulloch’s spokesman said Tuesday that the drug cases won’t be prosecuted since Wilson missed several court appearances after disappearing from public view following Brown’s death. The office does not expect any other cases to be affected.
Associated Press Writer Alan Scher Zagier contributed to this report.