James Knowles III, Thomas Jackson
Why are Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson and Mayor James Knowles III still on the job after the Department of Justice’s scathing 105-page report on the unconstitutional practices of the Ferguson Police Department and Ferguson Municipal Court
“As detailed in our report, this investigation found a community that was deeply polarized, and where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.”Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them.”
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Knowles said that one police supervisor who was found to have sent racist emails has been fired, while two are suspended while under investigation.
“Let me be clear, this type of behavior will not be tolerated in the Ferguson Police Department or in any department in the city of Ferguson,” Knowles said. “These actions taken by these individuals are in no way representative of the employees of the city of Ferguson.”
The Washington Post writes that there have been renewed calls for Jackson to resign and even for the FPD to be disbanded. In an editorial, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, “Let the firings begin. And let them begin at the top.”
Yet the man most accountable for the actions of the FPD was nowhere to be found on Wednesday. Jackson was not at Knowles’ press conference, and Knowles did not say whether Jackson would remain on the job. The mayor also did not say whether the city would accept the DOJ’s recommendations, nor did he take any questions.
Watch Knowles’ statement below:
And let’s not forget St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who said he was not surprised that the DOJ validated his grand jury’s decision not to indict former Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. “We knew all along,” McCulloch said. “To feel vindicated by something you have to feel incriminated by something. This certainly confirms that I don’t feel any need to feel vindicated by anything.”
Strangely, McCulloch expressed skepticism at the practices described in the report, in spite of the statistical proof. “To suggest that [racial profiling] is somehow all that goes on out there does a deep disservice to everybody,” he said.
Four protestors were arrested during a small demonstration outside the Ferguson Police Department on Wednesday night.
The Report’s Findings
During its investigation, DOJ staffers interviewed several city officials and half of the FPD’s officers. The report says the staff spent 100 person-days in Ferguson, riding along with on-duty officers and reviewing 35,000 pages of police records as well as thousands of emails and other electronic documents. Staff observed four sessions of Ferguson Municipal Court and interviewed dozens of residents charged with offenses. They also met with a number of community and advocacy groups. Two outside police chiefs took part in the DOJ investigation.
The DOJ found that the FPD has a pattern or practice of:
conducting stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
interfering with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment;
and using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The DOJ found that Ferguson Municipal Court has a pattern or practice of:
focusing on revenue over public safety, leading to court practices that violate the 14th Amendment’s due-process and equal-protection requirements.
court practices exacerbating the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices and imposing particular hardship upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those living in or near poverty. Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment or housing.
The DOJ found a pattern or practice of racial bias in both the FPD and municipal court:
The harms of Ferguson’s police and court practices are borne disproportionately by African-Americans and that this disproportionate impact is avoidable.
Ferguson’s harmful court and police practices are due, at least in part, to intentional discrimination, as demonstrated by direct evidence of racial bias and stereotyping about African-Americans by certain Ferguson police and municipal-court officials.
The investigation uncovered racist emails sent by current Ferguson employees, during work hours and using work email accounts, including a comment that President Obama would only serve one term because “what Black man holds a steady job for four years” and a description of a man seeking welfare for his dogs because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddies are.”
“The racial animus and stereotypes expressed by these supervisors suggest that they are unlikely to hold an officer accountable for discriminatory conduct or to take any steps to discourage the development or perpetuation of racial stereotypes among officers,” the report said.
The report recommended 13 changes for each agency, covering seemingly everything, with multiple bullet points under each one. For the FPD, the changes include implementing measures to reduce bias and its impact on police behavior, developing mechanisms to more effectively respond to allegations of police misconduct, and publicly sharing information about the nature and impact of police activities.
For Ferguson Municipal Court, changes include making court processes more transparent, implementing a system for reducing fines, and changing bond procedures.