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FERGUSON, Mo. — Police used tear gas to clear protesters off the streets late Sunday, a week after demonstrations against the fatal police shooting of a black Missouri teenager filled this St. Louis suburb with angry, defiant crowds.
Earlier, the federal government on Sunday took on an intensified role in investigating the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black teenager, as Missouri officials defended their tough response to continuing protests and looting in Ferguson, Mo.
Attorney General Eric Holder issued a terse statement ordering an independent autopsy of Michael Brown by a federal medical examiner — the third autopsy of the 18-year-old. The Justice Department took the action in response to what spokesman Brian Fallon called “the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case” and requests from Mr. Brown’s family. Mr. Brown was killed Aug. 9 by a white police officer, Darren Wilson.
Following a chaotic Saturday night marked by gun violence, clouds of tear gas, and the deployment of armored vehicles on Ferguson’s streets, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon stood behind his decision to order a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew. The shooting of Mr. Brown has made the town of 21,000 the epicenter of a national debate about race, justice, and the use of force in African-American communities.
Capt. Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is overseeing security in Ferguson and had earlier mingled with protesters, took a new tack Sunday, calling the police response “proper” and saying he was “disappointed” in the actions of the demonstrators.
Shots were fired Sunday night and police shouted through bullhorns for protesters to disperse, witnesses said, as chaos erupted.
Hundreds of protesters fled to safety after authorities fired canisters of smoke to disperse them hours ahead of a planned midnight curfew.
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The crowd of about 400 appeared to be marching peacefully but a spokesman for the Missouri Highway Patrol said “aggressors” had advanced on a law enforcement command post.
At a rally Sunday evening at Greater Grace Church in Ferguson, Michael Brown, Sr., wore a T-shirt that said, “No Justice No Peace.” It had a photo of his son as a baby on the front. The church was packed to overflowing, and cars were lined up outside for more than a mile.
Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing the family, said that Michael Brown’s parents did not want to speak.
“It is just a heavy heart they’ve been dealing with,” he said. “Nobody volunteers [for] this position. Nobody wakes up and says, ‘I want to be the mother of a child executed in broad daylight.’ No matter how they try to distract us, we know there was an execution.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who attended the rally, said the family is calling for the federal government to take over the case, “because if you look at what the police chief did, how can you trust the local authorities?”
He told the crowd that the investigation will be a defining moment in the country’s justice system.
“In all my life, I’ve never seen anything more despicable than the police chief releasing a tape to disparage Michael Brown’s name while his mother is still weeping,” Mr. Sharpton said, referring to a convenience store security tape that police said showed Mr. Brown stealing cigars.
“This young man hadn’t even been buried. Then they come out and say [the incident] had nothing to do with the shooting. Then why did you put it out? I saw the tape of a young man who might be shoplifting. There’s a difference between robbing and shoplifting. This issue is not whether he shoplifted. The issue is about a young man with no due process who was shot multiple times.”
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In Washington, the White House said President Obama was briefed Sunday morning on the events in Ferguson and was scheduled to receive another briefing today from the attorney general.
The federal investigation of Mr. Brown’s death will take into account the autopsy performed by state medical examiners, in addition to the procedure ordered by Mr. Holder, Justice Department officials said. According to federal law enforcement officials, Mr. Brown’s family also paid for an autopsy by Michael Baden, a medical examiner who was featured in the HBO show Autopsy. Dr. Baden has consulted on investigations relating to the deaths of civil rights leader Medgar Evers and actor John Belushi.
Mr. Holder’s announcement was the latest signal that the federal civil rights investigation of Mr. Brown’s death is escalating.
Dozens of FBI agents are going door-to-door in Ferguson to interview anybody with information about the shooting.
The federal probe is running parallel to the state investigation.
The new developments came after a Saturday night in Ferguson that ended with a shooting victim, seven arrests, and a heavy early morning rain that finally helped clear the streets.
Captain Johnson said early Sunday that a large force was deployed amid the curfew and protests after police received a report that an unknown assailant had shot a person.
Officers had learned through intelligence sources that a group of armed protesters was holed up in a barbecue restaurant.
He said that by the time police arrived, the shooting victim, whom the captain did not identify, had been taken to a hospital by protesters.
The victim was in critical condition, Captain Johnson said.