The Justice Department sued the city of Ferguson, Missouri on Wednesday to mandate police reform after the city council voted Tuesday against accepting a carefully negotiated overhaul of its criminal justice system. The city council instead made its acceptance conditional on a series of amendments. The changes amounted, in essence, to a “no” vote on the deal, despite the clear and well-understood threat of a federal lawsuit if the city failed to accept the terms agreed to by city negotiators. The DOJ filed a 56-page federal lawsuit against Ferguson Wednesday afternoon asking the court to compel the city “to adopt and implement policies, procedures, and mechanisms that identify, correct, and prevent the unlawful conduct.”
The DOJ opened its civil rights investigation into the policing of Ferguson following the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown and uncovered a police force and court system that operated outside the law, in a fashion that showed a deep bias against its black residents, while simultaneously functioning as a revenue-generator for the local government. To avoid a federal lawsuit, the Obama administration spent seven months negotiating reforms and came to an agreement on a package of fundamental changes last month.
From the New York Times:
They agreed that police officers would not make arrests without probable cause, shoot at moving cars or use stun guns as punishment. The agreement demanded that the municipal court be independent of the Police Department, and called for the repeal of some laws, like a vague jaywalking ordinance that was used almost exclusively against black residents. It was an expensive deal. It called for Ferguson to pay for an independent monitor, provide new training and give raises to police officers in order to attract qualified applicants. Ferguson has been running an operating deficit of about $2.5 million since the unrest of a year and a half ago, but Mayor James Knowles III said he was optimistic that he had the votes in the City Council to approve the agreement.
Opposition to the agreement was largely financial, with concerns over the cost of the deal looming large for the council and some residents.