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Nixon orders National Guard to leave Ferguson

Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri National Guard to withdraw from Ferguson, just after an altercation occurred near the Justice Center in St. Louis.
Police officers watch as a group of pastors, clergy and protesters march to the office building of St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullough on Aug. 20, 2014 in Clayton, Mo. demanding justice in the police shooting of Michael Brown.

FERGUSON, Missouri — Gov. Jay Nixon on Thursday ordered the Missouri National Guard to withdraw from Ferguson, where they had been in place since Monday. The move came just after a brief altercation occurred between a state senator and a county spokesperson near St. Louis. 

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed approached the Justice Center in Clayton, Mo., to deliver a petition with more than 70,000 signatures calling for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch to recuse himself from an investigation into the police shooting death of teenager Michael Brown. As Nasheed tried to duck under police tape, Ed Magee, spokesperson for McCulloch, reached out to block her and she shouted, "Get your hands off me." Eventually, Nasheed was allowed to enter the building with the petition.

Shortly before the altercation, Nasheed explained during a morning press conference that the petition demonstrated people "have no confidence in [McCulloch's] ability to be fair and impartial, not just in the City of St. Louis and in Ferguson, but throughout the country." The previous day, McCulloch presented preliminary evidence to a grand jury for the investigation into the teen's killing.

McCulloch continues to reiterate his intent on remaining part of the investigation.

"Although I understand the concerns, and do not take lightly the demands that I recuse myself from this case, I also recognize that I have a responsibility to the family of Michael Brown, the people of Ferguson, and the entire community," McCulloch wrote in a statement Thursday. "As I have stated repeatedly, I have no intention of walking away from the responsibilities and duties entrusted to me by the people of this community."

Protesters had gathered outside of the building to demand the immediate resignation of Ferguson Mayor James Knowles and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. The Ferguson Police Department did not create an incident report about the shooting since the case was turned over to the St. Louis County Police immediately after it happened, according to the prosecutor's office.

Knowles and Jackson "have shown a failure of leadership in this time of crisis," said Zaki Baruti, president of the Universal African People's Organization. If the two individuals don't resign, Baruti added, he will call on the community to recall their positions.

The demonstrators also requested Officer Darren Wilson be fired from the police department, charged, and "vigorously prosecuted" for the killing of the unarmed teen on Aug. 9. They also called upon Attorney General Eric Holder and Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to investigate the policies of municipalities throughout the state, and for Nixon to remove McCulloch from his involvement with the case.

Timeline of a tragedy: The Michael Brown story so far

A day after visiting Ferguson for an on-the-ground briefing, Holder on Thursday addressed the history of tension in the St. Louis area and said, "I want the people of Ferguson to know — this Department of Justice stands with the people of Ferguson."

Holder said in a morning press conference that he will continue to receive regular updates on the situation, and that "we will try to do this as expeditiously as we can." But African-American leaders on Thursday said they gave Holder a "D-" grade for only meeting with "a select group of people" that excluded individuals who have protested in the streets of Ferguson.

Time is a matter of essence in the Brown case, as conflicting accounts of the incident show the situation is only beginning to unfold. Wilson's narrative of the fatal shooting of the unarmed teen differs from eyewitnesses whose previous accounts depicted the 18-year-old raising his hands in surrender before his death.

"According to his account to the Ferguson police, Officer Wilson said that Mr. Brown had lowered his arms and moved toward him, law enforcement officials said," The New York Times reported on Tuesday. But three witnesses who previously came forward, including Dorian Johnson and Tiffany Mitchell, all said Brown stopped moving and raised his arms before Wilson fired at him.

Wilson was reportedly treated at the hospital for injuries after the shooting. The St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office told NBC News that they have not received medical records related to the incident. Any medical records available would not be released to the public while the case is before a grand jury, officials added. 

Local authorities received criticism for their reactions following the shooting, and protesters rallied against them — often violently — for most of the previous 11 nights. Additionally, two individuals filed separate federal lawsuits against the Ferguson Police Department on Wednesday, according to NBC News. Both claims stem from the death of a man who was allegedly tasered by police in 2011.

The City of Ferguson denied commenting to NBC News on the pending litigation.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill on Thursday made public her plans to lead a Senate hearing in September to examine the militarization of the local police department.

On Saturday, Brown's family will attend a march led by Rev. Al Sharpton on Staten Island, N.Y., in memory of Eric Garner, who died earlier this summer after police placed him in a chokehold. (This use by police has been banned by the New York City Police Department for the past 20 years.) Sharpton previously held a rally for justice in Ferguson last weekend. Brown's mother, Lesley McSpadden, viewed her late son's body at a local funeral home on Wednesday for the first time since the shooting.

Ferguson remained relatively calm for the second consecutive night on Wednesday, after days of unrest and violence as police fired tear gar and rubber bullets into crowds of protesters demanding justice for Brown's family. But only a small group of people continued to march and chant on Wednesday, which "was a very good night in Ferguson," said Capt. Ron Johnson, of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The number of people recently arrested for rallying violently dropped from 47 on Tuesday to just six by Wednesday.

Holder visited Ferguson on Wednesday and spoke with community members of his personal experiences with racial profiling, the police, and being an African-American in America. "I am the attorney general of the United States," Holder said to a group of local college students. "But I am also a black man." Holder said he understood the mistrust residents have toward law enforcement officials. During the day, he told reporters he hoped his visit would have a "calming influence" on the area.

During a 20-minute meeting with Brown's relatives, the attorney general promised the investigation would be a "fair and independent" inquiry. FBI investigators have been in Ferguson since last week to gather details for the federal civil rights investigation Holder previously ordered.

Another fatal shooting nearby in St. Louis on Tuesday had raised fears that an already tense situation would boil over. Video footage emerged that conflicts with information about the incident provided to the public by St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson.

Brown's family continues to prepare for the teen's funeral, planned for Monday. The federal autopsy was completed by Tuesday, but officials haven't released details from the examination. An attorney representing the Browns on Monday said he believed an independent autopsy report requested by the family and released over the weekend indicated that the teen had been surrendering to police before he was killed. The family asked for a separate autopsy to be conducted aside from the preliminary report from local authorities and the federal examination later ordered by the U.S. attorney general’s office.