Justice Dept. Ready to Sue Ferguson Police

By Albert Lin

The other shoe could be about to drop on the Ferguson Police Department.

The Ferguson PD avoided legal action when a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown. Now, however, CNN is reporting that the U.S. Department of Justice is prepared to sue the Ferguson police for use of racially discriminatory tactics if it does not agree to make changes on its own.

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Tuesday that he plans to release the results of the DOJ’s investigation into the Brown shooting and the Ferguson Police Department’s tactics before he leaves office in a few weeks.

CNN says the DOJ is expected to decline to charge Wilson for the shooting, but it will outline a pattern of discriminatory practices allegedly used by Ferguson police. Sources tell CNN that if the police department does not agree to correct those practices, the DOJ would sue to force changes to be made.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told CNN, “I have received nothing new. Everything they suggested in the past has been reasonable and we have tried to comply.”

The report is expected to address allegations included in a recent lawsuit filed by low-income residents who claim that officers in Ferguson and nearby Jennings preyed on members of underrepresented groups, jailing them when they couldn’t pay fines for minor traffic violations.

Thomas Harvey, Executive Director of Arch City Defenders, which filed the lawsuit, told POLITICO that he and members of his staff have talked to DOJ lawyers and with Christy Lopez, the Deputy Chief of the DOJ’s Special Litigation Section who is leading the investigation into the Ferguson PD.

“All discussions [with the Justice Department] have focused on what we believe to be a connection between the allegations of police misconduct and the erosion of trust between members of communities of color and their government,” Harvey said.

The Justice Department would ask for court supervision of the changes made by Ferguson police to improve how they deal with members of the Black community.

Changing Police Department Demographics

Meanwhile, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III tells The Associated Press that the city has attracted an unusually high number of applicants for three openings in the police department. About 1,000 people applied for a dispatcher’s job, and more than 50 have applied for two patrol officer positions, one of which resulted from Wilson’s resignation. Two more officer jobs are expected to come open soon because of retirements.

Knowles said that he does not have a racial breakdown of the applicants, but claims that several Black officers from neighboring departments have told him that they have applied.

Of course, Knowles is the same person who doesn’t see a racial divide in his town.

At the time of the Brown shooting, just three of Ferguson’s 53 police officers were Black, even though the town’s population is two-thirds Black. Knowles says the force currently has four Blacks among 52 officers, with one Latino and three of Asian or Pacific Islander descent.

“As we continue to replace officers who will retire, we’ll absolutely continue these efforts to seek out a more diverse pool of applicants,” Knowles said, citing outreach to predominantly Black colleges.

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