JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Amid the unrest that followed the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon turned to a former St. Louis police chief to be the state's public safety director. Dan Isom II, a black man, became a part of Nixon's Cabinet at a time when it was being criticized for its lack of diversity.
On Wednesday, just six months into his job, Isom announced that he's stepping down, effective on March 2. And the search begins for his successor.
Isom confirmed in a statement issued by Nixon's office that he plans to return to the University of Missouri-St. Louis, where he previously taught in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
"It has been a great honor to serve as the director of public safety during this important time," Isom said. "But after a long career in law enforcement I have found that my true passion is teaching, and I'm eager to return to my students at UMSL."
Isom was appointed in August after Darren Wilson, a white police officer in Ferguson, shot and killed Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old. The appointment came as Nixon, a Democrat, was facing criticism both for a lack of black leaders in his Cabinet and for the state's response to protesters and looters after the Aug. 9 shooting.
At the time, Nixon did not say whether the leadership change was related to the events in Ferguson. On Wednesday, Nixon called Isom "a strong leader for the department."
Isom started serving in the top public safety role on Sept. 1 but faced hurdles last month during his confirmation with the Senate. The primary concern was his role in a racial discrimination lawsuit during his time as police chief.
Lawmakers eventually voted overwhelmingly in favor of him.
A federal jury in 2013 awarded a white police sergeant $420,000 in punitive damages over his claim that he was unfairly denied a promotion because his superiors wanted a black female to help lead the city police academy. The jury levied $20,000 in damages against Isom for his responsibility as police chief over the actions of other department leaders.
Isom and other defendants have appealed.
Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis, who issued a statement earlier Wednesday about Isom's resignation, backed him throughout the confirmation process, which she said "took a lot of heavy lifting to get him there, to say the least."
While praising Isom, she criticized Nixon.
"I sponsored Dr. Isom's nomination because I believe that he has the ability and experience to reform the justice system in the state of Missouri," Nasheed said in her written statement. "The governor needs to start taking responsibility for these needed reforms. This state needs leadership, and the governor is not showing that right now."
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste declined to comment on Nasheed's claims.
Peter Lyskowski, deputy chief of staff in the governor's office, will serve as acting public safety director. He previously was deputy director for the state departments of Health and Senior Services and Labor and Industrial Relations.
Former Dunklin County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Sokoloff, of Kennett in southeast Missouri, will join Andrea Spillars as a deputy director of public safety.
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(Photo: AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Huy Mach, File)
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