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President Obama Speaks about Missouri Shooting and Iraq Crisis; ISIS Advancing South and West of Kirkuk; Protesters and Police Face Off

Aired August 14, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim Acosta is our Senior White House Correspondent. He's on Martha's Vineyard. Jim, what did -- what did you think of the president? Did he break some new ground as far as Iraq? I think he did break some new ground. And we're going to discuss that with Jim Sciutto, in a moment.


BLITZER: But as far as the -- his reaction to Ferguson, Missouri. What did you think about that?

SCIUTTO: Well, I -- you know, and I do think it was noteworthy that the president said that the siege Mt. Sinjar has been broken. I thought that was, coming from the president, an indication of where things are headed, in term of that mission. We may not see that military mission focused so much on Sinjar. It may be just focused on protecting those advisers in Erbil.

But as for Ferguson, I thought it was -- I thought it was very striking that the president came out and said he basically embraced the Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, calling him a fine governor and a decent, good man. That is as close as a president can come in saying he has confidence in Governor Nixon to deal with the situation that's unfolding in Ferguson.

He did also say, though, that he is asking the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate the police shooting death of Michael Brown. Wolf, we're already seeing members of the Congressional Black Caucus ask for that. And so, the president really had no choice but to initiate that. And so, that is now underway.

In the meantime, as Jeffrey Toobin was just saying a few moments ago, I think the president coming out and calling for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson, that is important. But the president really did have to say something about at the arresting and the bullying of journalists who were just trying to do their jobs.

In addition to that, Wolf, he did also say there is no excuse for violence against police. And so, the president trying to walk a very fine line, walk a tight rope there, in terms of trying to keep both sides of the unrest in Ferguson under control.

I did try to ask the president, as well as all of us in this room, a few questions as he was leaving. I asked the president whether or not he was thinking about cutting his vacation short. He didn't answer that question. As Jeffrey Toobin was saying earlier, this has been the vacation from hell for this president.

He has had some time to have a little bit of fun out here on Martha's Vineyard, but no question about it, it has been sort of one thing after another. If it hasn't been the vacation from hell, he probably can see it from here, Wolf. It's been a tough week.

BLITZER: It's been a very tough week. And the president said -- he said, we lost a young man. It's been heartbreaking, under tragic circumstances. And you're right, we just got a statement from Congressman John Lewis, Representative John Lewis, a great pioneer on civil rights in the United States, among other things. He says, the death of Michael Brown is a grave tragedy. The community of Ferguson, Missouri should not have to bare how many more young men of color will be killed before we realize that we have a problem in America?

And Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri just put out a statement saying, we need to de-militarize this situation. This kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution. I, obviously, respect law enforcements work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have a peaceful -- a peaceful protest and the police need to respect that right and protect that right. Today is going to be a new start. We can and need to do better. So, the reaction clearly coming in.

On Iraq, Jim Sciutto, the president seemed to open up the door to more efforts to deal with the plight of refugees. Now, let's not forget the past couple months or so, since ISIS made the big push into Iraq, there have been about 600,000 Iraqis, many Christians, Yazidis, Shiites, others who have been displaced from their homes internally. Some have fled to Jordan or Turkey or Syria or some other places. And there have been more than a million and a half Iraqis, over the past several months, who have had to flee their homes. So, this is a -- the president may be right, if he is right, that the situation on Mt. Sinjar is improving, but the rest of Iraq, it looks awful.

SCIUTTO: No question. As you say, he opened a door. He opened a door pretty widely because he declared something of a victory with the situation with the Yazidis on the mountain saying that that -- the bottom line is that situation has greatly improved. And he said Americans should be proud of what the U.S. did.

But he said, more broadly in Iraq, the situation, in his words, remains dire. Then he goes on to list all the ethnic groups in Iraq that could be under threat from ISIS, the Christians, the Sunnis, the Shias, the Kurds. You just described the entire population of Iraq. And there are a lot of them. There are folks who have fled and there are folks who haven't fled yet who may still be under threat.

And he says we're going to -- he says that we have a great urge, in his word, to provide some humanitarian relief to them. That is -- that portends a number of humanitarian operations like this, possibly with airstrikes and air drops. That's a lot of time. That may involve more American forces on the ground, if not combat troops, but helping with that aid. The U.S. is going to be here for some time and they're going to be active for some time and the president opening the door to that.

BLITZER: Now, let's check in with Nick Paton Walsh, our Correspondent in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. First of all, Nick, what is the very latest there? We know the past couple days, there have been car bombings galore going on in Baghdad. We're now getting reports that the ISIS forces are moving closer and closer toward the Iraqi capital. What are you hearing?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not the Iraqi capital they're leaning towards, Wolf, it seems to be at cities and towns that are really between Baghdad and Erbil. The suggestions we're getting from both sources close to ISIS and also now Peshmerga officials that, in fact, there is heavy fighting happening in a town called Katara (ph). That's one of a number of towns which are between Baghdad and Erbil, closer to Erbil, in fact.

But ISIS appear to, in the past few weeks and specifically today when it comes to Katara, have been making advances towards. The goal it seems, according to those analyzing, observing ISIS, is not to move towards Baghdad. That does seem to be relatively well enforced by a ring of steel here, to some degree. But instead to try to push north. One analyst suggesting, in fact, they're aiming at refineries around Kirkuk, potentially because ISIS sees their future revenues coming from selling oil products around the region.

So, a lot moving on a very volatile battlefield. But the fact, Wolf, that they have moved from pushing their (INAUDIBLE) towards Mt. Sinjar in the north areas on the Kurdish border and instead now focusing down towards the south will travel some because a key town called (INAUDIBLE) was, in fact, taken by them in just the past week or so. So, perhaps, they are pushing now towards the south of Kurdistan to maybe cut off any supply routes between the Kurds and the Iraqi capital here of Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the president said that these ISIS forces, they are well armed. They are well funded. They are fanatic, in many respects. They are fiercely loyal to their leader, Al Baghdadi. The president said they represent a dire threat to the country. Does the political leadership in Baghdad, Nick, where you are right now, really appreciate how much trouble, how much of a dire threat these ISIS forces represent? Because it was only, you know, a few weeks ago that the military of the Iraqi leadership, they simply abandoned their posts. They abandoned their weapons and they fled. They refused to fight these ISIS forces.

WALSH: There is a think amongst people resonating (ph) in the capital, just a feeling of amazement, frankly, at how the political lead has not been able to get his act together. Even provisions amongst the Shia here most threatened by ISIS has advanced. They are predominantly Sunni extremists. And, yes, today, we have not seen any major developments, politically, at all.

Nuri Al Maliki spoke yesterday, spoke of the need for the federal courts to rule on a constitutionality of his replacement being named. He is still, in his mind, the prime minister. But, really, no one else seems to be referring to him as that. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Washington, Paris, you name it, they have moved on. He simply hasn't.

Haider Al Abadi, the prime minister designate, expected to name a cabinet. People are hoping he may speak publically, at some point, in the next 24 hours. But the people are still waiting for Nuri Al Maliki to accept the inevitable. He seems to be holed up the green zone with a lot of loyal fire power here. And this is political dead lock that has people so edgy. Unless a stalemate is revolved, western powers simply don't feel comfortable giving more aid to Iraq, unless there's a national unity government of some description.

You heard Barack Obama saying he'd spoken to Haider Al Abadi, Washington putting its full weight behind his designation as the future prime minister and how Obama said he believed Al Abadi was into creating some sort of unity government, healing divisions between Sunni and Shia here. Those very divisions which enabled ISIS to storm through much of the north of the country that's predominantly Sunni because they have grievances against the Shia, predominantly Shia government here in Baghdad. A phenomenally complex situation but one that's yet to see a clear resolution of the stalemate here in Baghdad. Until that happens, there won't be more aid for the Iraqi military. Washington will be (INAUDIBLE) to move in.

And you have to also bear in mind, that sort of mission accomplished sounds you got from Barack Obama speaking do suggest perhaps that Washington may (INAUDIBLE) the predominant (INAUDIBLE) military work here in Iraq against ISIS may be over. Not quite clear what they intend to do in the days ahead -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Clearly, as the president of the United States said, these ISIS forces represent a dire threat to the entire country of Iraq. And a lot of U.S. officials believe it is even a dire threat to so many others outside of Iraq as well.

We're going to continue our special coverage here on CNN, reaction to what the president said on Iraq, reaction to what the president said about the situation unfolding right now in Ferguson, Missouri, outside of St. Louis. The president ordering the Department of Justice and the FBI to move in. Much more coming up on both of these issues.

But listen to what the president specifically said about Iraq as we take a quick break.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Yazidi men, women and children had abandoned their positions to take refuge on Mt. Sinjar in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter. We also knew that ISIL terrorists were killing and enslaving the Yazidi civilians in their custody and laying siege to the mountain. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice. Starve on the mountain or be slaughtered on the ground. That's when America came to help.


BLITZER: President Obama just spoke about the tense situation in Ferguson, Missouri where the shooting and killing of an unarmed black teenager has sparked days of unrest. Listen to the president.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And when something like this happens, the local authorities, including the police, have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death and how they are protecting the people in their communities. There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting.

There is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their first amendment rights. And here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.

Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in position of authority.


BLITZER: All right, this was the scene last night in that St. Louis suburb, which erupted in violence for the fifth day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There - there it goes there. They're firing on to the crowd. Ow! (EXPLETIVE DELETED). They are firing rubber bullets.


BLITZER: In the United States of America. Look at this. You can see the chaos as police fired tear gas, smoke bombs at crowds. Protesters are demanding answers. They're seeking justice for the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Let's go to the scene right now. Ana Cabrera is joining us in Ferguson.

So what's the latest over there? I understand the governor is making some major decisions about who's going to be responsible for law enforcement? What do we know, Ana?

ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He spoke to a group of faith leaders today and is expected to address the press here in the next couple of hours. And what he said was, he is here on the ground, he is hearing the residents here and he plans to implement some kind of operational shifts today so that it sets a different tone in this community moving forward from these law enforcement side, from the community leader side of things in which protesters have been questioning in terms of their intentions and their actions because of scenes like we just showed you of last night.

You can see behind me right now, a huge group of protesters now gathering. This is just across from the police station. And we're seeing a much larger group of people here than we saw 24 hours ago at this time of day. But as you can see, they are peaceful. A different situation than what flared up overnight.


CABRERA (voice-over): Overnight, Ferguson erupted, perhaps the most chaotic protest and police response yet, angry crowds throwing bottles at law enforcement and police firing tear gas and flash bangs to disperse them. A TV news crew on the scene runs for cover after a tear gas canister lands directly in front of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There it goes. There it goes there. They are now firing on to the crowd. Ow. (EXPLETIVE DELETED). They are firing rubber bullets.

CABRERA: Dramatic video shot by a reporter on the ground captures utter chaos. Police advance on the protesters, sending them running in fear, as officers fire rubber bullets and smoke grenades in this residential neighborhood. At least 18 arrested overnight, including two journalists detained while police attempted to clear out a local McDonald's. The altercation caught on camera.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was going to ask you -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have time to ask questions. Let's go.

CABRERA: This as new cell phone video from just after Brown was killed captures the heartbreaking moment when a man believed to be Brown's uncle rushes to his lifeless body and is immediately pushed away by police. The witness who captured this video says she also saw the shooting unfold, telling CNN's Don Lemon the details of what she witnessed.

TIFFANY MITCHELL, EYEWITNESS TO MICHAEL BROWN SHOOTING: What I saw was when the cop and Michael were like wrestling through the window. It looked as if Michael was pushing off and the cop was trying to pull him in. Then the cop shot or fired through the window. Michael breaks away and he starts running away from the officer. The officer gets out of his vehicle and pursues Michael as he's shooting his weapon. Michael jerks his body as if he was hit. Then he turns around, faces the officer and puts his hands up and the officer continues to shoot him until he goes down to the ground.

CABRERA: Another eyewitness describes how the officer repeatedly shot Brown, who was unarmed.

MITCHELL: He was trying to get away from him. Why did he continue to shoot at him?


MITCHELL: I still don't get that part at all. Like, why was he killed trying to get away from the officer? CRENSHAW: And even when he turned around and put his arms in the air,

he was then (ph) over killed, shot multiple times.

CABRERA: Multiple witnesses tell a similar story, while police maintain Brown assaulted the officer in his car and tried to take his weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An officer involved shooting out of Ferguson. 2190 just said that they - they just had some more shots fired in the area.

CABRERA: The police chief now says the officer suffered injuries to his face during the altercation and was taken to a local hospital.

CHIEF THOMAS JACKSON, FERGUSON POLICE DEPARTMENT: He's very shaken about what happened that day and then the aftermath.

CABRERA: Earlier Wednesday, police had asked that all protests be held during the daytime. But Wednesday night's protests continued as scheduled. And police responded with force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're now firing on to the crowd. Ow!


CABRERA: Now much of this controversy and what's heated the passions in this town has been about voices not being heard or not being understood. And we've heard from protesters, we've heard from police.

I want to bring in a couple of resident who live in this community who have not participated in the protests but certainly have strong feelings about what they're witnessing in this community. Joining me is Russ Thompson (ph) and Reginald Pole (ph).

Thank you so much for joining me for just a couple of minutes here.

Russ, let me start with you. What do you think about what you're witnessing here and particularly how things have escalated over the last several days?

RUSS THOMPSON, RESIDENT: Well, it's very unfortunate, obviously. What happened is tragic. I think what is most critical - something that's very tragic is the impression that I think this -- the nation is getting of this area. You know, granted there's, you know, there's a black/white issue in St. Louis, but there's been --

CABRERA: You do think there is a black/white issue in this community?

THOMPSON: I do. I don't think that's unusual probably for a lot of cities in the United States. You know, not just Ferguson, but I think St. Louis in general.


BLITZER: Ana, I'm going to just - Ana - Ana, I just want to interrupt for a moment because the police chief of Ferguson, Thomas Jackson, is speaking now. I want to hear what he has to say. CHIEF THOMAS JACKSON, FERGUSON, MISSOURI: Officer did get hit with a

brick and actually broke his ankle. But - and one other officer was injured. But in general, I mean, with the chaos that's going on right now, I am - I'm at least happy that nobody's - nobody has gotten seriously injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, (INAUDIBLE) - chief, there were repeated examples (ph) -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) situation (INAUDIBLE) is increasing. What's your take on how volatile this is now and what's essential to our (INAUDIBLE)?

JACKSON: It's a powder keg. And we all recognize that. And that's why we're going to - to try to facilitate the protests tonight and we hope that the protesters will recognize that we are trying to facilitate, to help everybody bring this down, bring all the tensions down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) tear gas? Are you meeting with the family today (INAUDIBLE)?

JACKSON: I had a meeting scheduled with the family at 10:00 this morning. Apparently the attorney -- their attorney didn't have an opportunity to adequately talk with them. So the meeting was postponed but they promised me that this afternoon that that meeting will be rearranged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For today? For today?

JACKSON: Today, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) is that sort of the same thing (INAUDIBLE) --

JACKSON: No, my assistant was.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) Anonymous and the fact that they say they're going to release pictures, names, addresses, how do you respond to that threat?

JACKSON: OK. Well, Anonymous has been doing that. It hasn't been accurate information, but they've been putting it out as accurate information. All we can do is counter it when we see it. They did bring our website down. It's a possibility they just did it again. But, yes, we -- all we can do is react to that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to put up barriers along the sidewalk?

JACKSON: No. No, no. We're going to have cones and things like that.


JACKSON: No, we're not putting up a barrier or do barricades. We're asking for cooperation. That's what we want.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to - are you going to pull back the military-style vehicles and will (INAUDIBLE) out there again?

JACKSON: The tactical units will be out there. If fire bombs start getting thrown, property is getting destroyed, shots are being fired, people are being shot at, we have to respond to deadly force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But they were out there before any - they were out there before that happened.

JACKSON: We're going to -- we're going to talk about not only the tactics but the appearance. We're having conversations.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, why weren't those questions asked before? You know, like this gentleman says, the police, military-style units were out there from the very beginning and when you came out (ph) (INAUDIBLE). There are people who were arrested who weren't shooting (INAUDIBLE). There are people who were tear gased (INAUDIBLE). Can you give us some insight into the mindset of the police, why they approached this crowd the way that they did and what goes into making the decision to actually fire tear gas? Why was it fired? Why did it always seem to be fired around 9:00 at night? Can you take us inside some of those decisions, please?

JACKSON: Well, those decisions were made by the tactical commanders on the ground. And it was based on the threat, the threat of violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who makes those?

JACKSON: If individuals - if individuals are in a crowd that's attacking the police, they need to get out of that crowd. We can't individually go in and say, excuse me, sir, are you peacefully protesting? Are you throwing rocks? Are you throwing a Molotov cocktail? It's a crowd. If you're not - if the crowd is getting violent and you don't want to be violent, get out of the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In light of that, will you speak to the incident that happened with the media last night where the tear gas showed up?

JACKSON: Where the -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Al Jazeera (ph) group.

JACKSON: I -- I haven't been briefed on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE). I'm with Al Jazeera and I'd just like to ask a question.

JACKSON: Sure. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to ask the question because as you were pointing out earlier, we were in an area last night (INAUDIBLE) no protests going on (INAUDIBLE) yet we found ourselves as a direct target. Literally shot with rubber bullets and (INAUDIBLE) at our vehicle. Why was that happening? Who made the decision to do that?

JACKSON: I don't know who made the decision. I will look into that.


JACKSON: The media is not a target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what exactly is being fired? Tear gas. We've got rubber bullets.

JACKSON: Tear gas, pepper pellets, pepper balls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, amid the criticism of (INAUDIBLE).

JACKSON: The State Highway Patrol has been here in force all along. Their SWAT team is down on the lines and they've been very, very supportive in this situation. And, you know, I certainly welcome their assistance. They've been - they've been great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) maybe a different tone to the police response tonight and cops (ph) too (ph) is reporting that the county police have been pulled off of that and so -

JACKSON: I haven't heard that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What specifically is the police response going to change (INAUDIBLE)?

JACKSON: They're actually having that meeting now and I have not heard any of that. I haven't heard the results of that meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do we think that we are going to know what exactly happened?

JACKSON: That's up to the prosecuting attorney's office. He's waiting to interview. This has all been thrown out there before, but I see you're new. This -- all the evidence has to be examined, all the ballistics have to be examined and, most importantly, all the witnesses have to be, you know, talked to extensively. And when that's - when all that is done and the toxicology reports are in, and Mr. McCall (ph) is going to have a very clear picture of what happened out there. And he's going to present that to the grand jury.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why were the journalists arrested? The journalists, why were they arrested yesterday?

JACKSON: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, chief, we had a - we had (INAUDIBLE) arrested last night in the city of St. Louis, but also some folks said -- they said he was pulled out of his car and there are other people across the street (ph) from him last night said they were getting to their car - getting into (ph) their car. (INAUDIBLE). Why would that be?

JACKSON: All I can - all I can say, if anybody was arrested, from what I understand, it was because they were in an area that was being cleared by the police. Once it was declared by the commander on the scene as an unlawful gathering because of the violence, you know, and everything going, then they have to clear it and -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They actually booked or just detained temporarily? Like you're photographed (INAUDIBLE) -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reporters (ph)?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reporters were released at the scene and they were upset because they weren't (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And, chief, there are a few names circling about the officer that was involved. We're hearing Brian Romick (ph), Aaron Wilton (ph). Any truth to that?

JACKSON: We're going to have a conversation about releasing the name. But they -- I guess it's Anonymous put out a name this morning, Brian something, that's - that is not - that's not the name. I haven't seen anything else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, the protesters who were just here announced another name. And that name, since you're giving first names, was Gary.

JACKSON: All right. Well, I'm not going to comment on it right now until --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). Was that true? Is that true?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, what do you think about it (ph). I mean are these guys just running name after name after name after name?

JACKSON: I think that's probably what they're doing. They're taking the name of everybody and throwing it out there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you speak to the reason why they're holding (INAUDIBLE).

JACKSON: The threats of death against him and his - or threats of death against the officer who was wrongly identified as the shooter and also by McCullah's (ph) office policy of not releasing someone's name until they are formally charged. We're having some conversations about that today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, and (INAUDIBLE) you were saying, you know, they said, we're (ph) going to release a name until (INAUDIBLE) change. So that might change?

JACKSON: Well, I said if a judge ordered me to, I would. But I also said, we're taking this day by day. And so, again, we're talking about it today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The tactical commanders that are on the ground (INAUDIBLE), are they (INAUDIBLE). JACKSON: Yes, we have all the area SWAT teams are filtering through throughout the week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) are they in charge of every operation (INAUDIBLE).

JACKSON: Their tactical commander on the scene is the tactical commander, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, what's your reaction to the eyewitness accounts of the shooting?

JACKSON: I can't speak to the evidence, Elliot (ph). I just - I can't speak to the evidence. That belongs to the county police department and to Bob McCullah.

Let me just get one from you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chief, one last thing. These officers look like soldiers that (INAUDIBLE) wars (INAUDIBLE). Are you surprised by the reaction that people are having to the way these officers are looking (INAUDIBLE) just the nature of that (INAUDIBLE) military (INAUDIBLE).

JACKSON: Yes. Well, the whole picture is being painted a little bit sideways from what's really happening. And it's not military, it's tactical operations. It's SWAT teams. That's who's out there, police. We're doing this in blue.

So, anyway, thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question. Last question. Chief, is the officer who shot Michael still here? Have you taken him out of the area? Chief?

BLITZER: All right, there's the police chief, Thomas Jackson, of Ferguson, Missouri, trying to do the best he can under awful circumstances, explaining a lot of complicated, sensitive issues, including the most recent issue they were discussing, why they are not releasing name of the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.