As we reported earlier, the Judge who presided over the murder trial of former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley issued a not guilty verdict this morning. In anticipation of the announcement, Governor Eric Greitens activated the National Guard and law enforcement agencies beefed up their presence following vows of “mass shutdowns” by activists.

Rumors swirled yesterday that the verdict would come down this afternoon around 3:00 p.m. Instead, to the surprise of many, it was announced this morning at 9:00 a.m. Although Mayor Lyda Krewson had announced a designated “protest zone,” protesters began amassing at the corner of Market Street and Tucker Blvd., near the courthouse from whence the verdict issued.

The protesters began marching throughout downtown St. Louis as their ranks grew. Police afforded a buffer zone of sorts, blocking off certain streets to traffic and ceding them to marchers, but blocking them from entering a highway on-ramp and disrupting traffic there. In response, many downtown businesses opted to close early and let their employees go home rather than get trapped in protest traffic.

The home office of Wells Fargo Advisors closed at 10 a.m. Friday. The 4,900 employees at the Market Street campus west of downtown were “strongly encouraged to take their laptops home” and continue working there,” based on a statement from the company.

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The federal courthouse announced earlier this week it would be closed Friday, in anticipation of the verdict.

Brokerage and investment banking firm Stifel, which is headquartered downtown, also notified about 1,500 employees Friday that they could go home due to the verdict’s release.

Nestle Purina PetCare, which has 2,000 employees at its headquarters just south of downtown, closed its office campus at 11 a.m.

US Bank said it was closing six of its downtown St. Louis locations at noon Friday including its branch on Tucker Boulevard.

My own office initially planned to shut down at 2:00 p.m., then bumped up the time to 11:00 a.m. after this morning’s announcement.  As I was leaving my garage, I looked up Washington Avenue and saw a large contingent of bicycle cops heading my direction. The protesters were following, about 4 blocks behind them.

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And as I drove out of downtown, the streets were eerily quiet (considering it was near lunchtime on a Friday.) I guess the protesters have been somewhat successful in their stated goal. Hopefully, that remains the extent of it, though there are concerns the largely peaceful protests will take a turn later today. We’ll keep you posted.

Update 1:  The Post-Dispatch is now reporting that police have used pepper spray on some protesters.

Update 2 – 5:15 pm:  Local news is reporting there have been bottles, rocks, and other items thrown at police; damage to a police vehicle; a few arrests. Situation appears to be escalating.