August 13, 2014 - Note: This article was published Saturday, Aug. 16. Our website publishes breaking news articles with the date of the publication of the latest print issue, which in this case is Aug. 13.
The Ferguson police officer who sparked a national conversation on police force and race when he shot an unarmed teenager last week lives in Crestwood — but contrary to the expectations of some after the release of the officer's name, things have been calm in Crestwood despite tensions running high again in Ferguson last night.
When Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson released Officer Darren Wilson's name Friday after a week of pressure from teenager Michael Brown's family, he gave few details about Wilson himself, other than to note that Wilson has been a police officer for six years, has no disciplinary record and was a "distinguished officer" and a "gentle, quiet man."
Wilson, 28, worked for the Jennings Police Department for two years and for Ferguson for the last four years, Jackson said.
Wilson a new, quiet resident of Crestwood
Wilson left Crestwood with his family days ago, the chief added. Real-estate records show Wilson bought his house on Crestwood's Manda Lane in October. Five neighbors standing on a nearby lawn Friday night told the Call that he kept to himself, and they know nothing about him.
"I wouldn't know him from Adam," said one neighbor, who declined to give his name.
"I don't want anything to do with it," said a neighbor on a nearby front porch.
"We don't know anything," said a sign posted on a neighbor's door. "Pray for peace."
The description of Wilson as a person who kept to himself fit Jackson's description of his officer, who he said was "absolutely devastated. He never intended for any of this to happen."
"He had no (disciplinary) complaints," Jackson said of Wilson. "He was a gentle, quiet man, he was a distinguished officer. He was a gentleman, a quiet officer, and he has been an excellent officer for the police department."
Wilson's neighbors are wary of the attention directed at their usually quiet street, but some of them were nonetheless outside or sitting on their front porches Friday night, as if it were any other summer night. The biggest annoyance, they told the Call, has been the stream of reporters — some of whom got Wilson's address wrong and descended on a nearby house in a media frenzy that "nearly scared a woman to death."
An officer from the Crestwood Police Department is monitoring Wilson's house and Manda Lane from the Southminster Presbyterian Church parking lot, Mayor Gregg Roby said. City police first learned about Wilson when they received a call Friday morning from Ferguson police that Wilson was about to be named as the officer who shot Michael Brown.
Crestwood a diverse community, mayor says
The Ferguson case has been the top international news story for the past three days, with a focus on police power and race that even prompted President Barack Obama to interrupt his summer vacation to hold a press conference Thursday.
The St. Louis County Police Department immediately took over the investigation into the shooting, and since then a series of agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI, have begun their own investigations into the circumstances of the killing.
Last weekend, county Police Chief Jon Belmar said Wilson and Brown, 18, struggled in Wilson's police car, where a first shot was fired, before Brown was fatally shot 35 feet away from Wilson's police car an unknown number of times. Earlier this week, Jackson said that Wilson had been hospitalized with facial injuries from the struggle that swelled half his face.
Wilson is a white police officer, and Brown was an unarmed black teenager. Some national commentators yesterday compared the racial demographics of Crestwood to those in Ferguson, noting that Ferguson is 67 percent black, 29 percent white and 2 percent mixed-race, while Crestwood is 93.8 percent white, 1.6 percent black and 1.7 percent mixed-race.
Reducing Crestwood to those statistics does not tell the whole picture of the city's diversity, however, Roby said.
"We certainly didn't make it that way — we've never excluded anyone from living in our community. We have a lot of different nationalities here — Bosnian, Indian, Polish," he said. "It is a true mix of many different nationalities and cultures, and we've always welcomed that. The city of Crestwood has always been a community that thrives neighbor-to-neighbor, and we all work and talk to one another. We just enjoy the city of Crestwood."
No county backup for security
There are no plans to bring in the county Police Department for backup, and Crestwood officers are capable of handling any situation that might arise at Wilson's house, the mayor added.
No one at Crestwood City Hall or at the Crestwood Police Department was familiar with Wilson, Roby noted, although Police Chief Frank Arnoldy lives nearby and had noticed that a police officer from another jurisdiction also lived in his neighborhood.
Arnoldy, a 41-year veteran of the department, was named police chief in February, when former Police Chief Mike Paillou retired after 19 years of service.
"Our officers basically were over there this morning after the news went out, and to this point it's been just a few news trucks that have gone over there and basically took some photos and left," Roby said Friday. "There really has been no activity."
Schools react to heightened fears
Wilson's house is down the street from Truman Middle School, and Crestwood officers collaborated with Lindbergh Schools officials to monitor children walking or biking home from school Friday to make sure they safely made it home, Roby noted.
After the news broke Friday afternoon, South Technical High School in Sunset Hills canceled classes and sent students home altogether.
"Our school is safe, however, our concern is the transportation of students to and from the campus," South Technical said in a statement posted on its website, promising that school would re-open as scheduled Monday morning.
Lindbergh Schools, however, responded to the concerns of some parents about the heightened attention on Crestwood by keeping children in school, but taking a few extra precautions. When school let out Friday, the district posted Central Office administrators outside its schools in the city — Truman, Long Elementary and Crestwood Elementary — to make sure the children all made it home safely, spokeswoman Beth Johnston told the Call.
Any further security precautions will be decided on a day-by-day basis, she added, with school planned to go on as scheduled Monday.
Roby told the Call Friday afternoon that he suspected that since no protests had erupted at the house right after the announcement of Wilson's name, nothing much would happen.
"What are you going to do when you've got a guy who lives in a house, but he's gone because of the threats and stuff that's been made?" he said. "There's nobody there to talk to if you show up at the door."