FERGUSON, Mo. — The federal government 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 this St. Louis suburb.
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, Democratic 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.
“Last night’s curfew — I think everybody worked well,” Mr. Nixon said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re always disappointed when things aren’t perfect. But thousands of people spoke last night, thousands of people marched, and [there was] not a single gunshot fired by a member of law enforcement last night.”
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. The curfew was expected to be extended into Sunday night, as Mr. Nixon had not revoked his standing executive order imposing one.
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.
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,” Rev. Sharpton said, referring to a convenience store security tape that police said showed Mr. Brown stealing cigars.
“This issue is not whether he shoplifted. The issue is about a young man with no due process who was shot multiple times.”
The Friday release of the security video was criticized by the Highway Patrol and came over the objections of federal authorities, a law enforcement official said Sunday. The Justice Department had said that distributing the images would heighten tensions in the community, but Ferguson police released it anyway, the official said.
Mr. Nixon added his voice to that criticism Sunday, saying on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the video’s release had an “incendiary effect.”
In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama was briefed Sunday morning on the events in Ferguson and was scheduled to receive another briefing this morning from the attorney general.
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, and federal officials said last week they were deferring, for now, to state officials.
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.
Capt. 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 Capt. Johnson did not identify, had been taken to a hospital by protesters. The victim was in critical condition, Capt. Johnson said.
A shot was fired at a police car, Capt. Johnson said, though it was unclear whether the vehicle was hit.
When the five-hour curfew ended Sunday at 5 a.m., the streets were quiet. But less than an hour after the curfew had begun, police were battling protesters in the streets where Mr. Brown was killed.
The confrontation early Sunday followed Mr. Nixon’s declaration Saturday of a state of emergency and the overnight curfew. In a heated news conference, the governor told a group of shouting residents that order must be restored after days of protests.