On Tuesday (February 9), the Ferguson City Council failed to approve an agreement that it negotiated with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that would have completely overhauled its justice system. Tonight, the DOJ made it clear that it would not let the Missouri town off the hook for what it calls violations of citizens’ civil and constitutional rights.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the DOJ is suing the city, which — rather than passing the negotiated consent decree — instead proposed seven amendments that weakened the reform effort. Council members cited implementation costs, which it estimates at $2.2 to $3.7 million for the first year, as the reason for the changes. The city has a $14.5 million annual budget.
“Today, the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, Missouri, alleging a pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the Constitution and federal civil rights laws,” said Attorney General Lynch. “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. 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. But residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights—the rights guaranteed to all Americans—for decades. They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”
The suit was filed via Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI). It charges that the city of Ferguson:
-Conducts illegal stops, searches and arrests, and employs excessive force (violation of the FOUth Amendment)
-Interferes with citizens’ freedom of expression (violation of the First Amendment)
-Prosecutes municipal charges in ways that skirt due process and equal protection under the law (violation of the 14th Amendment)
-Uses discriminatory bias when interacting with African Americans in law enforcement settings (violation of the 14th Amendment and federal statutory law)
“We intend to aggressively prosecute this case and I have no doubt that we will prevail,” Lynch said.