(Updated 5:45 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 21)
In an apparent attempt to curb the increasing protests in Clayton, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch issued a public statement Thursday telling critics that they’re targeting the wrong man.
If they’re upset with his leadership, McCulloch said, critics need to be complaining to Gov. Jay Nixon.
McCulloch reaffirmed his earlier view that since the governor declared a state of emergency in Ferguson, Nixon has the power to remove him as head of the investigation into the Ferguson police shooting that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
McCulloch said he thought his removal would be a mistake and called on the governor to clarify his position. Nixon had issued a statement Tuesday night stating he had no plans to replace McCulloch.
Nixon stuck with that position in an interview Thursday with St. Louis Public Radio's Jefferson City correspondent, Marshall Griffin. The governor called locally elected prosecutors like McCulloch "pillars of democracy."
Replacing McCulloch with a special prosecutor is "not on the list of things that I'm focused on, for sure,'' Nixon added. The governor noted that a federal investigation also is underway, which he has maintained would make a local special prosecutor less necessary.
McCulloch’s statement, and the governor's comments, came after state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, held a news conference outside the county Justice Center that called on the prosecutor to recuse himself or be removed. She has collected thousands of signatures from like-minded residents. A group of pastors is holding a similar event later today.
Nasheed has been critical of Nixon's decision to keep McCulloch in place. She also is angry with U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., because she has publicly endorsed retaining McCulloch as head of the local probe into Brown's death.
Protests and demonstrations against McCulloch have been a daily occurrence in Clayton since Monday.
The key objections against McCulloch center on two facts:
-- His father was a policeman who was killed in the 1960s by a black suspect;
-- McCulloch had publicly supported St. Louis County Councilman Steve Stenger in his successful bid to oust County Executive Charlie Dooley in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary.
Governor keeping "state of emergency" in place
Nixon’s power to remove McCulloch may, though, be more questionable since Nixon announced Thursday that he is ordering the National Guard to leave Ferguson – a move indicating that the governor may be preparing to rescind his “state of emergency’’ declaration.
However, a Nixon spokesman said Thursday that the governor was keeping his "state of emergency'' declaration in effect, at least for now.
Without the state of emergency, Nixon would appear to have no power to remove an elected prosecutor such as McCulloch. McCulloch would have to remove himself\, or critics would have to go to court and ask a judge to force him out.
McCulloch made clear in Thursday’s statement, written entirely in capital letters, that he had no plans to drop out voluntarily.
“I appreciate and understand the concerns of those who honestly believe that I cannot or will not be fair to all of the evidence pertaining to the tragic death of Michael Brown,” the prosecutor wrote.
He then made clear, “I have no intention of walking away from the responsibilities and duties entrusted to me by the people of this community…”
McCulloch said he believed that he had “faithfully and fairly carried out those responsibilities and duties for more than two decades and will continue to do so for at least the next four years.”
Citing Nixon’s emergency powers, McCulloch then said, “I do urge all seeking my removal to express those demands to the governor and, as I have, demand that he make a decision to remove this office or not remove this office and end this distraction…”
In the meantime, McCulloch noted that a grand jury has begun hearing evidence in the case. The jury, which would determine whether charges should be filed against the police officer, is expected to be involved in the case for months.
Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio's Jefferson City correspondent, contributed information for this article.