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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ferguson, Mo., Ticks Off Department of Justice

FERGUSON, Mo. (CN) - Much to the chagrin of the Department of Justice, the Ferguson City Council voted Tuesday night to approve a consent decree with the Justice Department, but with seven stipulations.

The Department of Justice immediately responded by slamming the City Council for "unnecessary delay," and said it would "take the necessary legal actions to ensure that Ferguson's policing and court practices comply with the Constitution and relevant federal laws."

Here are the seven stipulations the City Council approved unanimously:

that the agreement contain no mandate for pay hikes for police or other city employees;

no mandate for staffing in the Ferguson Jail;

extension of deadlines;

that the terms of the agreement do not apply to other governmental entities or agencies that may take over Ferguson services in the future;

local preference in contracting with consultants, contractors and third parties;

goals for minority and women participation in consulting, oversight and third party services;

monitoring fee caps in the side agreement of $1 million for the first five years with no more than $250,000 in any single year.

The 6-0 vote to send it back to the Justice Department came at the end of the third emotionally charged public hearing.

"During the past seven months, we have worked very hard to ensure that our negotiations were feasible and realistic for the citizens of Ferguson," Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement. "Although we did not get everything we wanted in the agreement, we certainly made sure that what was agreed upon can be implemented in a timely and sufficient manner."

Ferguson released the 131-page consent degree in late January. It requires police to wear body cameras at all times and states that police may not stop people simply to check for outstanding warrants, among other things.

Shortly after the Tuesday night vote, Department of Justice Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta issued a tersely worded statement.

"The Ferguson City Council has attempted to unilaterally amend the negotiated agreement. Their vote to do so creates an unnecessary delay in the essential work to bring constitutional policing to the city, and marks an unfortunate outcome for concerned community members and Ferguson police officers," Gupta said.

"Both parties engaged in thoughtful negotiations over many months to create an agreement with cost-effective remedies that would ensure Ferguson brings policing and court practices in line with the Constitution. The agreement already negotiated by the department and the city will provide Ferguson residents a police department and municipal court that fully respects civil rights and operates free from racial discrimination.

"The Department of Justice will take the necessary legal actions to ensure that Ferguson's policing and court practices comply with the Constitution and relevant federal laws."

The agreement came after the DOJ investigated Ferguson after the Michael Brown protests, and is the result of months of negotiations.

Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot to death in August 2014 by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, who is white. Brown's death sparked months of often violent protests and opened up a national dialogue on police racism and excessive force.

The Justice Department released a scathing report on the Ferguson Police Department and Municipal Court in March 2015. It said Ferguson police disproportionately target black citizens and the city uses its Municipal Court as a revenue generator.

Shortly after the report, Ferguson's city manager and police chief resigned.

The Department of Justice must accept the seven changes for the settlement to be valid.

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