FERGUSON, Mo.—Captain Dan DeCarli of the Ferguson Police Department wants to make one point crystal clear: This town still needs cops to fight crime.
The detectives who are working the murder case of Robin “Jerry” Poindexter, a St. Louis man gunned down Oct. 7 in Ferguson, have not and will not be dealing with the protests that have engulfed the suburb since one of their fellow officers killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9. The detectives’ time will be spent doing the police work that DeCarli hopes will bring Poindexter’s killer to justice, a task being performed by a department that must serve a city that largely doesn’t trust it to protect them.
It took a bit of convincing to get DeCarli, a 38-year veteran of the department, to speak with me.
“I know you guys have a job to do,” I told him.
“Some of the protesters might disagree with that,” he replied.
Poindexter’s family probably doesn’t. The 50-year-old father left behind a son and a daughter, both of whom have met with Pastor Henry Logan, one of the last people to see Poindexter alive.
Logan was working inside an office on a voter-registration drive meant to empower Ferguson’s blacks when he heard the shots. He headed out and made his way up the hill to an apartment complex.
“All I heard was screaming and Mr. Poindexter saying ‘I’ve been hit,’” Logan recalls.
He found Poindexter on the ground, bleeding from a bullet wound to his chest. Logan and another man held Poindexter’s hands as he lay in shock, saying only “I’ve been hit. I’ve been hit.”
On Tuesday, Logan pointed to a stained spot of concrete near two dumpsters where he gave Poindexter impromptu last rites. Logan had kneeled next to the dying man and prayed, imploring Poindexter to “find a relationship with Christ” if he hadn’t already.
“While we were praying he began to squeeze my hand.”
Poindexter’s breathing had accelerated and Logan, a former nurse, knew what that meant: His heart was hit.
The shooting wasn’t intentional, Logan said—Poindexter had received a bullet intended for someone else.
“Wrong place, wrong time,” DeCarli confirmed in a garage at Ferguson police headquarters.
The building is not an easy place to get into these days. In addition to heightened security thanks to the omnipresence of protesters, a massive renovation project has blocked the main entrance. Those on official business must find their way to a small, bulletproof window out back, buzz for help, and wait. Construction workers came and went under a steady drizzle the day I spoke with DeCarli, a no-bullshit cop who was wary at first of speaking with anyone from the press.
The three previous shifts had run 12 hours, DeCarli said, much like they have for every member of the department since Brown’s death.
“It’s tiring. What are we, on day 66? 67?” DeCarli said of the time that has passed since Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown. “But we’ve got a job to do.”
Anecdotally, crime is slightly down in Ferguson since Brown died, DeCarli said. But Poindexter’s murder marked a moment of violence that had at least some looking for help from police who’ve been eyed warily or called enemies. Residents of the apartment complex, a stone’s throw from the store where Brown allegedly stole cigars from on the day of his death, were helpful to police regarding Poindexter.
“They talked,” DeCarli said, “because that’s their home.”
Poindexter’s death is Ferguson’s only unsolved murder today, following an officer-involved shooting and one case of involuntary manslaughter in the past two months..
DeCarli knew this off the top of his head, but Logan had to think for a minute.
“I’m not sure if there have been any other homicides. Except for Mike Brown, that is.”