ST. LOUIS – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday appointed a new state public safety director, giving his administration its only black Cabinet member nearly three weeks after the shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer led to violent protests in a St. Louis suburb.
The governor said former St. Louis police chief Daniel Isom II will take over as director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety on Sept. 1. He will replace Jerry Lee, who resigned after almost three years as director.
The appointment comes after Nixon faced criticism both for the lack of racial diversity among his department leaders and for the state’s response to protesters and looters following the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
Nixon did not directly say whether the leadership change was related to the events in Ferguson. He said Isom “has experience and training in law enforcement that are almost unmatched.” Nixon also denied forcing Lee to resign.
“I work constantly to try to make sure we have a government that reflects the citizens of the state,” Nixon said at a St. Louis press conference that abruptly ended after he had fielded only a few questions.
In the immediate days after Brown’s shooting, local police in riot gear fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who refused to disperse and, at times, broke into nearby stores. Nixon eventually placed the State Highway Patrol in charge of securing Ferguson with a more relaxed approach. After one relatively calm night, however, police stood by as people again looted stores. Nixon then imposed a curfew, lifted it after a couple of nights of clashes between police and protesters, and called in the National Guard.
The ordeal has prompted thousands of people, from Los Angeles and New York to places overseas, to donate nearly $700,000 toward the online fundraising sites of both Brown and Wilson, the money mostly going toward living expenses.
Tensions have lessened in recent days, but Nixon did not say Wednesday how long the patrol would remain in charge of securing the neighbourhood near where Brown was shot.
The public safety director oversees both the patrol and the guard. He also oversees the State Emergency Management Agency, which deals with natural disasters, and a wide variety of other programs such as veterans’ nursing homes and casino regulations.
Isom joined the St. Louis police department in 1988 and served as the chief from October 2008 until he retired in January 2013. He currently serves as a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“As a professor and as a police officer, I’ve dedicated my life to trying to find out better ways to make the community safe,” Isom said.
Before his appointment in October 2011, Lee worked for 38 years in the St. Louis County Police Department, including serving as chief from 2004 to 2009. He submitted a one-sentence resignation letter dated Tuesday that provided no explanation about why he is leaving the state public safety department.
Although Isom will be Nixon’s only black Cabinet member, he is not the first. Kelvin Simmons served as commissioner of the Office of Administration from 2009, when Nixon became governor, until he left in 2012 for a private-sector job.
Lieb reported from Jefferson City. Follow Alan Scher Zagier at http://twitter.com/azagier and David A. Lieb at http://twitter.com/DavidALieb