Justice

Investigation of Ferguson Will Reveal Disturbing Data, Racist Emails

UPDATE 3/11/15 - 2:45 p.m. ET:

CNN is reporting that Ferguson's police chief, Thomas Jackson, has offered to resign on the condition the police department is not dissolved entirely.

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The City of Ferguson, Mo., has confirmed that four of its employees have either been fired or have been resigned after they were connected to racist emails that were disclosed in the Justice Department's report on civil rights violations in Ferguson's police and court system. Ferguson Municipal Judge Ronald Brockmeyer stepped down Monday afternoon, the same day the Missouri Supreme Court announced that beginning next week, all Ferguson municipal cases will be reassigned to the circuit court. The court said in a press release that the change aims to "help restore public trust and confidence in the Ferguson municipal court division." Brockmeyer will continue his municipal roles in other parts of the state.

Two of the aforementioned former employees are police officers, Rich Henke and William Mudd, who resigned. The other worker is a court clerk, May Ann Twitty, who was fired. One of those emails, allegedly sent in November 2008, makes a racist joke about President Obama, saying that he would not be president for long because "what black man holds a steady job for four years?"

The Justice Department's probe of the police and court system in Ferguson concluded that the Ferguson Police Department and Ferguson's municipal court system exhibited a pattern of systemic racism.

The following data from 2012 to 2014 was included in the investigatory report: 

  • 85 percent of drivers stopped by Ferguson police were black people, and 90 percent of those receiving citations were black. Black drivers were also more likely than whites to be searched for contraband, yet they were 26 percent less likely to be found with contraband.
  • 93 percent of arrests were of black people, yet the population of Ferguson is 67 percent black.
  • 88 percent of instances of police use of force involved force against black people.

Ferguson has been in the national spotlight since Aug. 9 when Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed, African-American eighteen-year-old. Protests erupted after the killing and the perceived police mishandling of the initial investigation. They erupted again in November when the Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Wilson for his role in the death.

Last month, CNN reported that the Justice Department was ready to file a lawsuit against the police department of Ferguson. The lawsuit will allege that the police department's officers have so frequently acted in a racially discriminatory manner that the department must make changes. CNN says that the Justice Department will demand that the Ferguson police correct whatever tactics are leading to a pattern of racial discrimination. If they refuse, the Justice Department will move forward with a lawsuit to force changes. The Justice Department could also ask a judge to order court supervision of the police department's dealings with minorities.

There was some discussion that the Justice Department would file federal civil rights charges against Wilson himself. CNN says that likely won't happen. Those charges would not be the same as a homicide charge, which can only be brought by the state of Missouri. (The grand jury's non-indictment back in November foreclosed that possibility.) Instead of homicide, the federal government would charge Wilson with violating Brown's civil rights. As has been reported by The Washington Post, some inside the Justice Department's investigation do not believe there is enough evidence to win a civil rights case against Wilson. To win that case, the Justice Department needs enough evidence to show -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- that Wilson intended to violate Brown's civil rights.

A lawsuit against the police department, on the other hand, would not only focus on the actions of Wilson. It would be an attempt to show a court that the Ferguson Police Department has a systemic problem with racism. For example, one issue likely to be in the suit, according to CNN, is the allegation that Ferguson police target minorities for minor traffic violations and then put them in jail if they cannot pay the fines.

Additionally, the Brown family is considering a civil lawsuit against Wilson where the court could provide money damages.