TIME Courts

Missouri Police Will Restrict Tear Gas After Ferguson Lawsuit

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old Man
Scott Olson—Getty Images A demonstrator, protesting the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, scrambles for cover as police fire tear gas on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

Three agencies have agreed to warn protestors in advance of using the chemical

Three Missouri police agencies have agreed to limit their use of tear gas as part of a settlement in a lawsuit over the protests in Ferguson.

The plaintiffs in the suit alleged that police departments had used excessive force in dealing with protests that were sometimes violent in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in August and after a grand jury’s November decision not to indict the police officer who shot him, Reuters reports.

The settlement requires police to warn protestors before using tear gas and give them time to disperse, unless harm is truly imminent. A U.S. district judge will retain jurisdiction over the suit through 2017 in order to enforce the agreed-upon terms.

[Reuters]

TIME Crime

Ferguson Community Shocked at Cop Shootings, Senator Says

Senator Claire McCaskill says protestors are "disappointed" by shooting of two police officers

The Ferguson community has “come together” in outrage and disappointment a day after two officers were shot in a demonstration in front of the city Police Department, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said Friday.

“Many of the protest community have spoken out in very dramatic terms about how disappointed they are that some thug would come to a peaceful protest site and commit a violent criminal act like this against police officers who are doing their jobs,” she said, echoing Attorney General Eric Holder, who called the at-large perpetrator, a “damn punk.”

The shootings came the morning after the town’s chief of police, Thomas Jackson, resigned following a Department of Justice report that found widespread racial bias among the city’s police. The city manager and a judge have also resigned after the damning report ordered by Holder after the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in August.

Ferguson remained calm overnight Thursday despite the shootings. A few hundred protesters gathered peacefully outside the police department and no fights broke out, as they had before the shootings, according to the Associated Press. The AP reports that the two officers, who were released from the hospital Thursday, were the first shot in more than seven months of protests in Ferguson.

McCaskill said Friday that the racial tension enraging Ferguson isn’t unique. “This is a bigger issue than Ferguson,” she said on the Today show. “We have a disconnect between some communities in this country and law enforcement. And law enforcement only works if the people of this country believe in it. So we’ve got to back to the drawing board [and] get back to community policing models. There is healing going on in Ferguson and there is reform going on in Ferguson. And that needs to be happening in many communities across this country.”

McCaskill’s office said she was drafting legislation to address these issues, prioritizing federal resources for body cameras for police officers and providing more oversight of federal grant and equipment programs that critics claim have militarized the nation’s police force.

TIME justice

Ferguson Activists Worry About Aftermath of Shooting

Police officers stand on alert during a protests outside the Ferguson Police Department on March 11, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.
Michael B. Thomas—Getty Images Police officers stand on alert during a protests outside the Ferguson Police Department on March 11, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.

Activists who have been protesting the police in Ferguson, Mo., are concerned that the shooting of two officers on Wednesday will cause renewed problems and derail their efforts.

In the wake of the shootings, the St. Louis County Police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol are returning to Ferguson Thursday evening to provide security for protests until further notice.

The two agencies were among the outside law enforcement brought in during the wave of protests that erupted shortly after the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, but they left after a state of emergency expired in December.

On a press call hosted by the Advancement Project on Thursday, activists who have been involved in the demonstrations since August say the return of the county and state police does not instill confidence that there will be a “measured” response as protests continue.

“We have seen this change in responsibilities before and what it ended up with was tear gas and tanks and hornets nests being thrown in the crowd,” said activist and author Rev. Osagyefo Sekou. “This change in role and responsibility has not yielded much for our democracy. “

Activists say they will continue engaging in non-violent protests, as they have for the past 200 days since the death of Michael Brown drew national attention to the small Missouri municipality.

“We are committed to non-violence,” Sekou said Thursday.

Thursday’s shooting couldn’t have come at a worse time for activists, who were just beginning to feel like they were reaching a tipping point after months of demonstrations. Last week, the Department of Justice released a report that affirmed what they’d been arguing: that unfair targeting of African Americans within the Ferguson community by police officers was at the root of the summer’s lasting unrest. On Wednesday, activists had gathered to celebrate the news that Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson had resigned when an unknown person fired wounding two police officers.

“After over 200 days we’re finally at a place where we’re beginning, just beginning to see the possibility of progress,” said Rev. Traci Blackmon, a pastor at the Christ the King Church of Christ in Florissant, Mo. “I see this as having the potential of taking our attention off of where our focus must remain.”

She added, “ That’s why we are adamant and completely committed to not letting this derail the work that is in front of us.”

TIME

Witness the Aftermath of 2 Police Shot in Ferguson

Two police officers were shot early Thursday morning as demonstrators reacted to the resignation of the city's chief of police

TIME justice

Ferguson Police Chief Resigns After Damning Justice Dept. Report

Protestors and elected officials have been calling for Thomas Jackson's resignation

The police chief of Ferguson announced Wednesday he is resigning his post, after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old resulted in an excoriating Justice Department report on his department.

Thomas Jackson submitted his resignation letter on Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “I believe this is the appropriate thing to do at this time,” Jackson told the newspaper. “This city needs to move forward without any distractions.”

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said at a news conference on Wednesday that Jackson and the city had agreed to a “mutual separation” that will take effect on March 19. Jackson will receive severance payment and health insurance for one year.

“He felt that this was the best forward, not only for the city but for the men and women serving under him,” Knowles said.

The Department of Justice issued a report last week that found systemic racial bias in Ferguson’s police department as well as a court system driven by profits. The report cited racial profiling by police officers and alleged that the court system functioned as a money-making enterprise that targeted the poor and minorities.

Protestors and some of Missouri’s top elected leaders had previously called on Jackson to step down from his post as police chief in the St. Louis suburb for his handling of the August shooting of teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The shooting provoked days of often violent unrest in Ferguson, and inspired protests across the U.S.

Two police officers, a court clerk, the municipal judge and the city manager have either been fired or resigned since the shooting.

[St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

TIME cities

Ferguson City Manager Resigns in Wake of Justice Department Report

Ferguson City Manager John Shaw walks past a police officer as he leaves a closed door meeting with Ferguson's Mayor and city council on Mar. 9, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.
James Cooper—Demotix/Corbis Ferguson City Manager John Shaw walks past a police officer as he leaves a closed door meeting with Ferguson's Mayor and city council on Mar. 9, 2015 in Ferguson, Mo.

John Shaw just the latest official from the St Louis suburb to lose job

John Shaw is out as the Ferguson city manager following a scathing Justice Department report that already has led to a Missouri appeals court judge being tapped to overhaul the local court system.

The City Council in the St. Louis suburb, beleaguered by unrest since a white police officer fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer, announced a resolution Tuesday removing Shaw following the report last week that accused the Ferguson Police Department and municipal court system of racial bias.

The Justice Department investigation already has resulted in a shakeup: Racist emails included in the report led to the firing of the city clerk and resignation of two police officers last week.

And on Monday, Municipal Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer resigned and was immediately replaced with a state appellate judge.

TIME Crime

These Are Some of the Racist Emails Ferguson Police Sent

Riot police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 11, 2014.
Scott Olson—Getty Images Riot police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 11, 2014.

Messages are ‘demonstrative of impermissible bias,’ report says

One email mocked then-recently elected President Barack Obama, stating he wouldn’t hold the office for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” A second depicted him as a chimpanzee. Another email ridiculed African-American speech patterns as other messages made jokes involving a black mother receiving an abortion and described a photo of what appeared to be dancing African women as “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.”

MORE Feds Clear Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson of Civil Rights Violations

Those were just some of the emails released by the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday as it released the findings of two civil rights investigations into the Ferguson, Mo. police that showed evidence of overt racism and prejudice within the department.

The justice department said that its review of internal documents “revealed many additional email communications that exhibited racial or ethnic bias, as well as other forms of bias.” The report included a summary of one December 2011 email that mocked Muslims and another that joked about African-Americans receiving welfare.

“The content of these communications is unequivocally derogatory, dehumanizing and demonstrative of impermissible bias,” the report says.

MORE Ferguson Reviewing Federal Report on Police Force

The investigation also found that the emails included Ferguson Police Department supervisors who “are responsible for holding officers accountable to governing laws, including the Constitution, and helping to ensure that officers treat all people equally under the law, regardless of race or any other protected characteristic.”

The report found only one instance in which someone within the department acknowledged that the material was offensive, but the investigation did not find that anyone had ever been disciplined.

Ferguson police became a focal point of a national conversation about race and policing last summer after Darren Wilson, a white officer, shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Wilson was not indicted by a grand jury and on Wednesday the federal government announced it had cleared the officer of committing civil rights violations.

Read next: Attorney General Says Report of Ferguson Police Is ‘Searing’

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Civil Rights

Feds Clear Ferguson Cop Darren Wilson of Civil Rights Violations

Prosecutors cannot disprove that the officer who shot Michael Brown "feared for his safety”

The Department of Justice has cleared Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., of committing civil rights violations in the August confrontation that sparked sometimes violent local and national protests.

A separate report from the Justice Department did find, however, that the Ferguson Police Department was in frequent violation of several provisions of the Constitution.

The report, one of two released on Wednesday, broadly corroborates Wilson’s account of what happened in the St. Louis suburb on Aug.9. The officer said he spotted Brown and a friend walking in the middle of the street. Wilson told prosecutors and investigators he suspected the pair in the theft of cigarillos from a nearby convenience store, and called for backup before pulling to a stop near them.

The officer and some witnesses said Brown reached into Wilson’s police car to punch and grab him. Even though other witnesses stated that Wilson had reached out of his vehicle to grab Brown by the neck, prosecutors said their accounts were “inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence.”

Wilson said he took out his weapon while still in his vehicle and shot Brown in the hand as the teenager attempted to gain control of the gun. The report found “no credible evidence to disprove Wilson’s account” of what happened inside the vehicle.

Brown then ran away and Wilson gave chase, the report said. Autopsy results found that Brown had not been shot in the back as he was running away, as some witnesses reported. Instead, the report found, Brown was approaching Wilson in a manner that “appeared to pose a physical threat” when he was shot. The shooting death led to weeks of often-violent protests in the city.

Witnesses said that “Wilson fired at Brown in what appeared to be self-defense and stopped firing once Brown fell to the ground.” Though a number of witnesses claimed Brown held his hands up in a surrender position before Wilson fired, the report found that they were not credible.

“Some of those accounts are inaccurate because they are inconsistent with the physical and forensic evidence; some of those accounts are materially inconsistent with that witnesses’ own prior statements with no explanation,” the Wilson report concluded. A state grand jury declined to indict Wilson in November; he resigned from the Ferguson Police Department that same month.

A separate Justice Department investigation opened after Brown’s shooting has found routine patterns and practices of racism in Ferguson, including the excessive use of force and unjustified arrests.

“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,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement accompanying the release of the reports. “Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson’s leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action.”

Brown’s parents said they were “saddened” by the decision to clear Wilson, but said they were encouraged by the DOJ’s findings about the Ferguson police. “It is our hope that through this action, true change will come not only in Ferguson, but around the country,” Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown, Sr. said in a statement. “If that change happens, our son’s death will not have been in vain.”

TIME justice

U.S. Faults Ferguson Police for Racial Bias

Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo. on Oct. 10, 2014.
Robert Cohen—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Getty Images Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., on Oct. 10, 2014

The report is scathing, but the big question is what comes next

The violent protests in Ferguson last August were driven by the indelible image of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, lying in the street after a white police officer, Darren Wilson, shot him dead. But the outrage in Ferguson, and the national debate that accompanied it, were also about something harder to see: racism, and the allegation that Ferguson’s largely white cops were deeply, systematically and violently prejudiced against black residents.

Now, as one of his last acts as U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder has painted a picture of Ferguson’s entrenched racism that is clear and unmistakable. A Justice Department investigation opened after Brown’s shooting has found routine patterns and practices of racism in Ferguson, including the excessive use of force and unjustified arrests, officials said Tuesday. The findings are scathing in their detail:

In 88 percent of the cases in which the department used force, it was against African Americans. In all of the 14 canine-bite incidents for which racial information was available, the person bitten was African American.

In Ferguson court cases, African Americans are 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal judge, according to the Justice review. In 2013, African Americans accounted for 92 percent of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued.

The investigation also turned up bigoted emails, like one from November 2008 that reportedly said President Obama wouldn’t complete his first term as President because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported another racist message, from May 2011, reading: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.'”

The Justice Department spent 100 days in Ferguson collecting such details, and the report is an end in itself, putting an official stamp on the town’s problems that some had found easy to dismiss. But when it comes to fixing the harsh reality of racism in Ferguson, it’s not clear transparency will be enough.

The question now is whether the report will deliver reform in the beleaguered St. Louis suburb. The Justice Department under Holder has significantly increased the number of pattern or practice investigations, and some past settlements with police departments have led to dramatic improvements. But others say the department’s lack of enforcement powers mean reform depends on local politicians, and worry Ferguson’s leaders won’t bring change.

Under the 1994 law authorizing such “pattern or practice” investigations, the Justice Department has little enforcement power to fix the problems it finds. As a rule, it enters into contracts with the offending force, which agrees to increase transparency and data collection and to provide better training and supervision.

Police officials and their unions often resist reform, several studies have shown. The Justice Department has “very few sticks they can use,” to get past such obstacles, says Elliot Harvey Schatmeier, a lawyer at the New York City office of Kirkland & Ellis and the author of one such study.

Others say that in many cases, the attention brought by the investigations is enough. In Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Los Angeles, Justice Department investigations led to successful reforms, says Chris Stone, president of the Open Society Foundations and a criminal-justice scholar. More important, Stone says, “They’ve established a national standard for what good policing looks like.”

Holder’s Ferguson findings, Stone says, have the potential to lead to a similar blueprint for smaller, suburban police forces around the country, which have typically been hard to reform.

By the same token, though, a failure in the high-profile Ferguson case could set back the effort to reform small police departments. Holder has established with clarity the problem in Ferguson. But without local political buy-in, the town that came to symbolize 21st century police racism in America could end up symbolizing its resistance to reform too.

TIME justice

U.S. Report Finds Racial Bias in Ferguson Police, Official Says

Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo. on Oct. 10, 2014.
Robert Cohen—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/Getty Images Protesters drop a mirrored casket in front of a line of police officers in front of the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Mo., on Oct. 10, 2014

(WASHINGTON) — A Justice Department investigation will allege sweeping patterns of discrimination within the Ferguson, Missouri, police department and at the municipal jail and court, a law enforcement official familiar with the report said Tuesday.

The report, which could be released as soon as Wednesday, will charge that police disproportionately use excessive force against blacks and that black drivers are stopped and searched far more often than white motorists, even though they’re less likely to be carrying contraband.

The Justice Department also found that blacks were 68 percent less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal court judge, and that from April to September of last year, 95 percent of people kept at the city jail for more than two days were black, according to the official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the record before the report is made public.

The Justice Department began the civil rights investigation following the August shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white police officer. That killing set off weeks of protests.

The official says the report will allege direct evidence of racial bias among police officers and court workers and detail a criminal justice system that prioritizes generating revenue over public safety.

Among the findings of the report was a racially tinged 2008 message in a municipal email account stating that President Barack Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

The department has conducted roughly 20 broad civil rights investigations of police departments during the tenure of Attorney General Eric Holder, including Cleveland, Newark, New Jersey and Albuquerque. Most of those investigations end with the police department agreeing to changes its practices.

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