Justice Department Sues Ferguson, Mo., to Force Police Reform

The Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit against Ferguson Wednesday after the City Council rejected a proposed agreement intended to reform the city’s policing practices.

Police stand guard as demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, protest along West Florissant Street Aug. 10, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo. 
Police stand guard as demonstrators, marking the one-year anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, protest along West Florissant Street Aug. 10, 2015, in Ferguson, Mo.  Scott Olson/Getty Images

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Wednesday that the Department of Justice has filed a federal lawsuit against Ferguson, Mo., after the City Council voted Tuesday to change the terms of a deal that would have brought sweeping changes to the city’s embattled Police Department.

“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,” Lynch said, according to ABC News. “They have waited nearly a year for their Police Department to accept rules that would ensure their constitutional rights. … They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”

The Justice Department launched an investigation into the Ferguson Police Department last year after the shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown by Police Officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. Wilson was not charged in the shooting, but the Justice Department investigation found “systemic and systematic racial bias within the force’s policing practices,” ABC reports.

The findings of the investigation were announced last year, and the city of Ferguson and the Justice Department began negotiations that ABC notes lasted 26 weeks, seeking an agreement that would address the Justice Department’s findings.

In January it was announced that the two sides had reached a tentative agreement that was set to include a complete overhaul of basic policing practices, including “how officers conduct stops, searches and arrests, use their firearms and respond to demonstrations,” among other significant changes, the Associated Press reports.

ABC notes that Ferguson leaders, however, had always balked at the tentative agreement, which they estimated would cost the city $3.7 million during the first year alone.

According to CNN, the city’s decision to reject the deal was not a full rejection of the terms but, rather, an attempt to bring the Justice Department back to the negotiating table. 

The city was fully aware that a rejection of the proposed agreement would lead to a lawsuit.

“I think that the city of Ferguson had a real opportunity here to step forward, and instead they’ve chosen to turn backwards,” Lynch said. “They’ve chosen to live in the past, and they’ve chosen to adopt a means of really ignoring the voices of their citizens. They’re choosing to ignore the complaints of their citizens.

“The city and residents of Ferguson deserve what every American is guaranteed under the Constitution: the right to be free from excessive force, from unconstitutional stops [and] from unconstitutional arrests,” Lynch added. “We intend to aggressively prosecute this case and we intend to prevail.”

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