Department of Justice sues city of Ferguson

The city of Ferguson sued by the Department of Justice over police reforms.

The city of Ferguson sued by the Department of Justice over police reforms.

Last Wednesday, the Justice department sued the city of Ferguson, Missouri after the city attempted to make changes to the police reform deal it had make with the U.S. government.

In a unanimous vote last Tuesday, the city council opted to adopt seven changes to the consent decree agreement with federal authorities, citing the city did not have enough money to leave the agreement as it was.

Proposed by Wesley Bell, an African American councilman elected last spring, the amendments reject pay increases for city employees (including police) and hiring more staff for the city jail; include provisions for local preference when hiring consultants, contractors and third parties, and add “project goals for minorities and women” within those arrangements; and caps the monitoring fee at $1 million over the first five years, not to exceed $250,000 annually.

Ferguson also wants to extend the deadlines in the original agreement, and ensure that the terms “will not apply to other governmental entities or agencies who, in the future, take over services now provided by the city,” according to the Associated Press.

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.

In the lawsuit, the Justice Department states that the city, via its police, municipal court system and the city’s prosecuting attorney’s office, “engages in an ongoing pattern or practice of conduct, including discrimination, that deprives persons of rights, privileges and immunities secured and protected by” the US Constitution and federal law.

“Unable to reach a mutually agreed upon court-enforceable settlement to remedy the department’s findings, the lawsuit was filed today,” the Justice Department said in a statement to Reuters.

The Justice Department 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.