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Ferguson Just Got Slapped With a Civil Rights Lawsuit From the Department of Justice

The US government filed a lawsuit after Ferguson's City Council sought to revise a deal that would have forced the town to change its policing and court practices.
Photo by Roberto Rodriguez/EPA

The US government has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson, Missouri, after the town's City Council sought to revise a deal with the Department of Justice (DOJ) that would have forced it to change its policing and court practices.

The Ferguson Police Department had previously been the focus of two DOJ investigations, which found a pattern of civil rights violations within its police and court system. The St. Louis suburb first came to the nation's attention after a white police officer fatally shot unarmed black teen Michael Brown in August 2014. The police officer, Darren Wilson, was not prosecuted after a grand jury declined to indict him, but he resigned three months after the shooting in November.


After the release of the report and several months of negotiations, the city announced a deal with the DOJ in January that would have mandated changes to its policing practices and overhauled its municipal court system. But on Tuesday, the City Council voted to revise the agreement, called a consent decree, which led the government to respond with the lawsuit Wednesday.

Related: A Ferguson City Councilman Died — And the Vote to Replace Him Is Split Along Racial Lines

"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," US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement announcing the lawsuit Wednesday. "They have waited nearly a year for their police department to accept rules that would ensure their constitutional rights and that thousands of other police departments follow every day. They have waited nearly a year for their municipal courts to commit to basic, reasonable rules and standards.

"They have waited decades for justice," Lynch added. "They should not be forced to wait any longer."

The City Council voted on a number of conditions to attach to the consent decree Tuesday, including that it not be required to increase police officers' pay and police staffing levels. A recent analysis put the cost of reforms outlined in the agreement at $4 million, according to the Associated Press. The city also said it wanted more time to comply with the other terms.


Yet some advocates said that entering into litigation with the government could cost Ferguson more than it would to implement the changes.

Related: Why Fixing Ferguson Requires Toppling the Many Fiefdoms of St. Louis County

Reforming police practices like those for which Ferguson was criticized is "no cheap or easy task," said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

In her prepared remarks Wednesday, Lynch said that the DOJ intends "to aggressively prosecute this case and I have no doubt that we will prevail."

The Alamance County, North Carolina, sheriff's office and the Colorado City, Arizona, police department are also in litigation with the Justice Department, according to court documents.

This is a breaking news story, please check back for updates.

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