Justice department report identifies constitutional violations in Ferguson Police Department

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On Wednesday, Mar. 4, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released their ruling of the two civil rights investigations regarding Ferguson. Their findings concluded that the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) violated various protections afforded by the constitution.

The Department of Justice found the FPD guilty of making stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause, which is a violation of the fourth amendment. Additionally, there were reports of officers hindering the right to free expression and protest in violation of the first amendment. Finally, there were reports of officers applying unreasonable force, specifically in search and seizure, in direct violation of the fourth amendment.

In addition to the police department’s ruling, the Ferguson Municipal Court was also faced with charges from the DOJ. The DOJ ruled Ferguson’s courts have practiced a pattern of preferring revenue over public safety, worsening the police department’s unconstitutional police practices and imposing further complications upon Ferguson’s most vulnerable residents, especially upon those in lower socio-economic positions.

The DOJ declared that both the FPD and Ferguson Municipal Court practiced racial bias, and illustrated this declaration through direct evidence of bias and stereotyping about African Americans by particular Ferguson police and municipal court officials. This stands as a violation of the protection of freedom for all American citizens as stated in the fourteenth amendment. The verdict concluded that accusations of racial bias by the FPD from many protesters were valid but did not find Officer Darren Wilson unjustified in firing at and killing Michael Brown.

President Obama has stood by the DOJ’s verdict, and spoke specifically in regards to the ruling of Officer Wilson at Benedict College.

“Officer Wilson, like anybody who is charged with a crime, benefits from due process and a reasonable-doubt standard.”

Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson resigned from his position March 11, 2015 following the report. In addition, Ferguson’s city manager has resigned along with its top municipal court judge.

From the beginning of the investigation Attorney General Eric Holder, made a promise to pursue the case wherever the evidence would take the DOJ and then take the initiative to examine the causes of mistrust between the FPD and the communities they serve. and to reestablish confidence wherever it has been destroyed. Holder recognizes that the report can be considered controversial due to the fact it so widely differs from the findings from the initial report. He iterates the extensive lengths the department has come to reach this verdict and urges those who have closely followed the controversy, establishing opinions of their own, to read the 87 page report in full. Holder also has claimed the DOJ will use all the powers they have in order to ensure a change is made in Ferguson.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division reacted optimistically to a future DOJ collaboration with the FPD.

“We look forward to working with city officials and the many communities that make up Ferguson to develop and institute reforms that will focus the Ferguson Police Department on public safety and constitutional policing instead of revenue.  Real community policing is possible and ensures that all people are equal before the law, and that law enforcement is seen as a part of, rather than distant from, the communities they serve.”

When the DOJ issues a report about a police department’s patterns and practices that entails evidence of discriminatory or unconstitutional policing practices, the city and DOJ enter a negotiation period. During this period, they establish a “consent decree,” which allows for any number of reforms to be made to the police department. The DOJ has made 26 recommendations for Ferguson, including instituting close monitoring of the department. It is suspected that the FPD will be disbanded and then absorbed by the St. Louis Police Department.

Under Attorney General Holder, the DOJ has opened 20 investigations and negotiated agreements to implement reforms in 15 departments. It currently has nine open investigations. Combating police misconduct has become an important priority and the activity of the Civil Rights Division, a section of the DOJ that has increased exponentially during the Obama administration compared to Clinton and Bush.

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