Dept. of Justice sues Ferguson Michigan
By Mark Berman, Sari Horwitz and Wesley Lowery February 11 at 7:52 AM
The Department of Justice filed a 56-page civil lawsuit Wednesday against the City of Ferguson, Mo. alleging that, 18 months after the police shooting of Michael Brown, the city’s police and court system continue to violate black residents’ civil rights.
The suit — a contentious next-step in what has been a months-long negotiation process between federal and city officials over potential reforms — says these “ongoing and pervasive” violations come from the city’s use of law enforcement to generate revenue.
“Residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights — the rights guaranteed to all Americans — for decades,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a news conference Wednesday in which she was impassioned as she spoke about the urgent need for reform in Ferguson. “They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleges that Ferguson’s police department and municipal courts engage in an unconstitutional “patterns and practices” of using force without legal justification and “engaging in racially discriminatory law enforcement conduct.”
Federal officials say the civil rights violations stem from the city’s failure to properly train and supervise its law enforcement officers, echoing the findings of the 2014 Justice Department investigation into Ferguson’s police force.
The Justice Department bluntly states in the suit that Ferguson’s focus on revenue is the reason the city’s officials have never changed politics to try and “decrease or eliminate police misconduct, including discriminatory policing, unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, and the use of unreasonable force.”
While the suit acknowledges that the city has made some reforms since the Justice Department conducted its investigation, it also states that they are insufficient to both eliminate the practices and prevent them from happening in the future.
The lawsuit comes one day after city officials requested several changes to a tentative agreement reached by city and federal negotiators following the Justice Department’s investigation into the city’s police and court practices — which concluded that the city engaged in practices that were racially discriminatory and violated residents’ civil rights.
“Our investigation found that Ferguson’s policing and municipal court practices violate the Constitution, erode trust and undermine public safety,” said Vanita Gupta, the DOJ’s principal deputy assistant attorney general.
The tentative agreement reached last month was in the form of a 131-page consent decree that, among other things, would establish long-term programs promoting interactions between the police and youths and ensure that officers are provided the training, supervision and support they need to police effectively but also “lawfully and ethically.”
Ferguson’s city council members voted unanimously on Tuesday night to accept the Justice Department’s proposed reforms only if federal officials agreed to seven changes, which included: changing the deadlines in the agreement, not mandating any salary increases for police officers and altering certain fees.
The Justice Department quickly disparaged the city council’s actions as an unfair development after extensive negotiations. Gupta, who heads the department’s Civil Rights Division, vowed that the federal government “will take the necessary legal actions” to reform the city’s courts and policing practices.
A spokesman for Ferguson did not respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit, though in the hours before the suit was announced, city officials had said they were still open to negotiating with the Justice Department.

Under powers granted to the federal government by legislation passed after the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, the Justice Department can force police agencies to undergo reforms if it concludes a department’s current policies permit civil rights violations, and can sue a municipality to force such changes if city officials do not cooperate.
The negotiations stem from the federal investigation into the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man whose death prompted nationwide protests, as well as a parallel investigation into the city police force’s “patterns and practices.” The Ferguson probe is one of more than two dozen such investigations into police departments conducted by the Justice Department under the Obama Administration, and the city joins at least two other police agencies currently in litigation.

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