Threat of DOJ Lawsuit Forces Ferguson City Council To Make Changes to Criminal Justice System

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Residents Of Ferguson Continue To Call For Change Over Handling Of Michael Brown Shooting

The Ferguson, Missouri, City Council is reconsidering the U.S. Department of Justice’s suggested reforms of its criminal justice system.

According to Raw Story, the City Council decided to take a second look at the changes after the DOJ threatened to file a lawsuit.

The Atlanta Blackstar reported that the DOJ recommended sweeping changes to Ferguson’s police department and court system after an extensive investigation. Some of the recommendations include requiring Ferguson police officers to wear body cameras and record encounters; raising officers salaries to make them competitive; and barring local residents from being held for more than 12 hours on a municipal warrant.

The investigation was the result of widespread protests after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot dead teenager Michael Brown in 2014. The DOJ report found that the Ferguson Police Department and court system were deliberately targeting Black residents with excessive fines to fund city operations. According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, within days of the report’s release, the police chief, a municipal judge and the city manager all resigned.

The Post-Dispatch reported the Ferguson City Council initially rejected the DOJ’s recommendations, claiming it would cost $4 million to implement. City Council members approved an amended agreement with seven provisions, which would have reduced costs. But Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed a lawsuit the day after, saying the move amounted to a rejection of the settlement they had agreed on.

However, the City Council is expected to take up a measure approving the DOJ reforms on Tuesday night.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III told The Associated Press the city had managed to come to an agreement with the DOJ on the financial terms of the changes.

“We feel like we’re going to be in that cost range that we can afford,” said Knowles. “We now have in writing from the DOJ that they will take very seriously these cost issues with us.”

Vanita Gupta, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, wrote a letter to the city council saying the DOJ was willing to be flexible with cities required to make these kind of changes.

“It is not uncommon for financial or staffing challenges to arise in the course of implementation of our consent decrees,” wrote Gupta. “Provided those challenges are genuine, approached in good faith and not pretexts for non-compliance, we are committed to working with jurisdictions to overcome those challenges.”

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