Update: Daily RFT just spoke with Mustafa Hussein from Argus Streaming News. He takes exception to Devin James' claim that the two have never spoken. Post updated with his remarks.
Throughout the day on Thursday, rumors rippled on Twitter that Ferguson authorities were formulating an "evacuation plan" for residents. The origin point seemed to be a tweet by the account @argusnewsnow or "Argus Streaming News."
"BREAKING: #Ferguson residents told to 'Create an evacuation plan or hunker down,'" the account posted at 11:25 a.m. "We will keep you posted as more details emerge."
About two hours later, the account tweeted again saying the information came from Devin James, the city's PR representative. Late yesterday afternoon, however, Daily RFT spoke to Ferguson police information officer Tim Zoll, and he told us he'd been asking around about the alleged "evacuation plan."
"Everyone looks at me like I'm on crack or something," he said.
Here are the tweets by Argus in order:
BREAKING: #Ferguson residents told to "Create an evacuation plan or hunker down"-We will keep you posted as more details emerge. Stay tuned.— Argus Streaming News (@argusnewsnow) October 2, 2014
Devon James continues to provide his PR services to #Ferguson. He was fired only by the County Economic Council.— Argus Streaming News (@argusnewsnow) October 2, 2014
As a representative of the City of #Ferguson he confirmed that residents have been notified to create Evac plan or prep to hunker down.— Argus Streaming News (@argusnewsnow) October 2, 2014
Later that morning, James made an appearance on the show St. Louis On the Air on St. Louis Public Radio (90.7 FM) to discuss, among other things, the conviction for reckless homicide ten years ago that cost him his job with the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership which was paying for his PR services (at the behest of Ferguson city officials, James is continuing to handle the city's PR pro bono). During the interview he brought up the idea of an evacuation plan, which the show live tweeted this way:
That was apparently viewed as confirmation that, indeed, residents were being advised to evacuate their homes in the event of mass unrest or rioting. Very shortly thereafter, however, James got in touch to say his comments on the radio were taken out of context and that furthermore, he'd never spoken to anyone from Argus Radio.
"He published the tweet, which is a blatant lie," James wrote in an email statement. "I have never spoken to him or Argus Radio about anything, and Chief and I saw him briefly outside the police station today, and he lied and said he talked to me today about this."
James went on to say that the idea of an "evacuation plan" was one of many potential ways of dealing with mass unrest in the Ferguson community, but when we spoke to PIO Zoll, he walked the possibility even further back than that.
"I know there's nothing in the works now nor is there anything being thought of in the future," he said.
He added that he recently started his own Twitter account on behalf of the department at @FPD_PUBLIC_INFO which he said he hopes to use in order to "combat this kind of stuff."
Update: Mustafa Hussein, who has been reporting and streaming live video from Ferguson for Argus Streaming News since Michael Brown's death on August 9, told Daily RFT he absolutely spoke to James yesterday just after he did an interview with a FOX News crew from Detroit. He said he asked James about the existence of an evacuation plan after seeing a tweet from someone else yesterday morning.
"Somebody had tweeted earlier in the morning around 6:30 a.m. or something that their mom had got a call about the evacuation plan at work. It wasn't a lead we could chase down," Hussein said. "That person never got back to us."
Hussein said that when he saw James in the parking lot outside the Ferguson Police Department he asked about such a plan, and that James said pretty much what he did on St. Louis Public Radio. Hussein said his tweets were meant to reflect that.
"He made a statement about using, you know, an evacuation plan because we're trying to decide if we're going to use the media and text messages to get out he word about having people prepare an evacuation plan," said Hussein. "The city doesn't have an official plan. Nobody said the city had an official plan."
While he and James are in agreement on that, Hussein takes exception to James' claim that he has "never spoken to him or Argus Radio about anything" and that Hussein "lied" about having talked to James yesterday. Though he does not have tape of his conversation with James from Thursday, Hussein pointed out that his tweets have the exact same verbiage ("hunker down") that James used on the radio hours later. As far as whether or not the two have spoken in the past, Hussein posted a video online today in response, which he said captures an off-camera conversation with James on September 22:
James also provided a transcript of his interview on public radio in which the word "evacuation" does come up repeatedly, as well as "hunker down," though he does not seem to be suggesting an active effort to make such a plan is in the works. The whole transcript is below (with our added emphasis):
Host Stephanie Lecci: How have talks been going between the City and the other various involved parties and the Department of Justice?
Devin James: Well, you know, there is a lot of, I think, confusion on who is supposed to what regionally. I think that is something that people really haven't paid attention to. When it comes to, you know, let's just say for example does the region have a crisis communication -- I mean, a crisis plan and then a crisis communications plan to support that in the event of, you know, a large outburst of unrest. They don't have that. You know. So, it is kind of, you know, difficult to assume that Ferguson would have one of those when the county doesn't. Or if they have it and haven't shared it with the other entities, that's a problem. So, going back to your point on communication, I think that is where we all could do better -- regionally, within all the municipalities, with the county government as well. I mean, I think that we could all use, you know, some better communication as it relates to what is going on. Say for example, if there is an outbreak of something that goes on tonight in a protest goes from peaceful to violence, you know, what are we supposed to tell residents to do? Are we supposed to tell them to evacuate, you know, the National Guard is coming in or what. A lot of those type of conversations are what they are working on now, and, I think, that, you know, in the months to come or in the weeks to come, hopefully they have those things firmed up.
Lecci: What is the plan going forward? If protests continue In Ferguson like what happened Sunday night, last week, things like that?
James: I can't speak to what, you know, obviously that is more in line with law enforcement type of question or whatever, so, I can't speak knowledgeably about that. But, excuse me, but we are in the process of working on and building is, you know, how do we reach all residents, you know, within the City of Ferguson in the event that something happens and there is an evacuation? You know, what resources do we have to actually get the word out there, you know. Do we rely on a combination of media, do we introduce robo-calls, do we do text messaging, emails, you know, we're looking at all of the different tactics available, and just trying to see, you know, what is the best method to communicate with everybody in the event that something like that happens, and we need to either tell people to hunker down or get out or whatever.
Lecci: Is that really a concern, right now?
James: No, I am just saying that, I mean, at the end of the day, you need to consider all the angles, you know, and if that is a possibility that something like that could happen, then you need to be prepared for it.
Lecci: Have there been discussions about what might happen when the Grand Jury decision comes down?
James: Well, I mean, yeah. Yeah, there's tons of discussions. There are discussions on the streets, there are, you know, discussions in the churches, there are discussions at the town hall meetings, there are discussions everywhere, I mean, there are so many discussions that sometimes you just get tired of talking.
Lecci: What have City officials been saying that they are doing to prepare or are they concerned?
James: Well no, I think from the City's perspective, and again this is a limited scope for me, but you know, what I have heard is that, you know, we need to be looking at all the possibilities, and that means, you know, whether it means that we are going to have, you know, a huge outburst of violence, and, you know, people angry because there is no indictment, or, and again I am just being real. You know, if there is no indictment and there is an evacuation situation, we need to be prepared for that. If there is an indictment and there is celebratory unrest, we need to be prepared for that, you know. I think that we, you know, the City and the law enforcement agencies are looking at all the scenarios, and I think that is the best thing to do.
Email the author at Jessica.Lussenhop@RiverfrontTimes.com.