Action follows evidence of harassment and racial bias found in wake of August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown
Describing “a community in distress, in which residents felt under assault by their own police department,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday accusing the city of Ferguson, Missouri, of multiple civil rights violations.
Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, was thrust into the national spotlight after the fatal August 2014 shooting of unarmed African American teen Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson.
The shooting and subsequent protests were followed by a Justice Department investigation into Ferguson which revealed a pattern of stops, searches and arrests allegedly driven by racial profiling. The investigation showed that the city used fines from law violations to bolster its budget.
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The Justice Department previously had issued a 131-page consent decree that offered Ferguson a blueprint for change. Earlier this week, the Ferguson City Council voted 6-0 to approve those changes, “subject to certain conditions,” despite worries that it could cost upwards of $3 million the first year and $10 million over three years, and also mandated raises in police and other city salaries.
But a revision sought by the council – which left open the possibility of disbanding the police department – could have undercut the entire order, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
The Justice Department said the council’s conditions amounted to a rejection of the decree “that the city’s negotiating team had negotiated.”
Said Lynch: “The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for their city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe. They have waited nearly a year for their police department to accept rules that would ensure their constitutional rights and that thousands of other police departments follow every day. They have waited nearly a year for their municipal courts to commit to basic, reasonable rules and standards.”
Lynch added, “But residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights – the rights guaranteed to all Americans – for decades.
“They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”