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Ferguson, DOJ Attempt to Avoid Civil Rights Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (CN) - Ferguson and the Justice Department are having "productive" conversations in an effort to avoid a federal civil rights lawsuit into the St. Louis suburb's policing practices, but just how far along the talks are is in question.

The New York Times reported Wednesday afternoon that Ferguson and the DOJ had reached the outline of an agreement. KTVI-TV, St. Louis' Fox affiliate, reported Wednesday night that talks have been productive, but Ferguson leaders declined comment and those leaders denied the Times report that a deal was close.

"The talks with the city of Ferguson to develop a monitored consent decree have been productive," Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in a statement. "The department believes that in order to remedy the Justice Department's findings, an agreement needs to be reached without delay."

The agreement would require new training for police officers and improved record-keeping and would install a federal monitor to ensure those changes were made, the Times reported. It is also expected to include changes to the city's municipal court.

Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. The shooting sparks months of often violent protests, but began a national dialogue on the issues of racism and excessive force by police.

In March, the DOJ released a scathing report on the practices by the Ferguson police department and municipal court. The report described a pattern of racism and civil rights violations by Ferguson police and described the municipal court as a city revenue booster.

Ferguson mayor James Knowles III told the Times in a phone interview that they have made "tremendous progress," but small sticking points remain.

"We're at a point where we have addressed any necessary issues, and assuming it is not cost prohibitive, we would like to move forward," Mr. Knowles told the Times.

Anonymous federal officials told the Times that they had reached the outlines of a deal and that they were optimistic it would be completed soon.

The price tag for the settlement is unknown, but the Times reported that the cost for a federal monitor alone would be $350,000 in the first year. That doesn't include costs for training and equipment.

The city had a $2.5 million operating deficit last year, relating directly from the Brown shooting. The deficit was caused by a combination of a $1 million drop in traffic fines and fees collections and legal expenses and overtime pay associated with the protests.

It is not known how Ferguson will pay for the settlement. Voters would have to approve any tax increase, something that could be difficult as divisions remain among the city's population regarding Ferguson's role in Brown's death and the protests.

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