DOJ Exonerates Officer Wilson, Excoriates Ferguson Police in 'Searing' Report
The Justice Department said today that there isn't evidence to support federal civil rights charges against Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, but issued a scathing report on racism within the Ferguson Police Department.
In a 105-page report, the DOJ found that the department "engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments of the Constitution."
Addressing reporters moments ago, Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the Brown case first, stressing that "the promise that I made ... was not that we would arrive at a particular outcome."
"Our investigation has been fair and rigorous from the start," Holder said, and found that Brown's death "did not involve prosecutable conduct on the part of Officer Darren Wilson... I concur with the investigative team's judgment."
"These findings may not be consistent with some people's expectations," he acknowledged, but before passing judgment "I urge you to read this report in full."
Al Sharpton's National Action Network issued a statement saying they are "deeply disappointed" with the decision to clear Wilson.
The congressman who represents Ferguson, Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), said he was grateful that Holder investigated the Brown shooting in the first place.
"While I am extremely disappointed that Mike Brown's killer will not face criminal charges, his death has forced our nation to begin a long overdue conversation on race and the disparities it continues to perpetuate for too many Americans," Clay said.
And Holder stressed that the second federal investigation, which revealed a "widespread pattern" of discrimination at the department, was the real root of the Michael Brown protests.
The "searing" report found "a community that was deeply polarized" with "eroded police legitimacy" and residents who "feel under assault or under siege" by those who serve and protect, Holder told reporters.
That, he said, made the Brown shooting "set off like a powder keg" demonstrations against the department.
Holder said the review found city officials viewing law enforcement as a "tool for raising revenue" that "fostered unconstitutional practices at nearly every level."
Ninety-three percent of arrests from 2012 to 2014 were of African-Americans though the community is 67 percent black. Eighty-five percent of traffic stops and 90 percent of citations issued were against African-Americans. Every case in which a police dog bit someone the person was African-American.
The report also addresses the local courts system, noting blacks were 68 percent less likely to have their case dismissed and are 50 percent more likely to have their cases lead to an arrest warrant.
Holder said constitutional violations included officers interfering with people recording police activity and the "common practice" of stopping pedestrians and requesting identification "for no reason at all." Some stops started out as start "defensible" with proper cause, he said, but then would "blatantly cross the line."
Investigators found "no other basis" for the patterns than "implicit and explicit racial bias," Holder concluded. They also uncovered "a number of public servants" expressing racial or gender bias.
"Some community perception may not have been accurate" on the Brown case, Holder said, but on the broader concerns of racism in the police ranks "some of those protesters were right."
Holder said the findings call for "immediate, wholesale corrective action" in Ferguson, and "nothing is off the table" as far as mandates.
The report states that "city officials have frequently asserted that the harsh and disparate results of Ferguson’s law enforcement system do not indicate problems with police or court practices, but instead reflect a pervasive lack of 'personal responsibility' among 'certain segments' of the community. Our investigation has found that the practices about which area residents have complained are in fact unconstitutional and unduly harsh. But the City’s personal-responsibility refrain is telling: it reflects many of the same racial stereotypes found in the emails between police and court supervisors. This evidence of bias and stereotyping, together with evidence that Ferguson has long recognized bu t failed to correct the consistent racial disparities caused by its police and court practices, demonstrates that the discriminatory effects of Ferguson’s conduct are driven at least in part by discriminatory intent in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment."
The email exchanges uncovered by investigators "involved several police and court supervisors, including FPD supervisors and commanders" and included one noting that President Obama wouldn't be president for long because "what black man holds a steady job for four years," one depicting Obama as a chimpanzee, and one that "included a photo of a bare-chested group of dancing women, apparently in Africa, with the caption, 'Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.'" Residents also told investigators of incidents when officers used racial epithets.
"While our investigation did not indicate that African Americans are disproportionately irresponsible, it did reveal that, as the above emails reflect, some Ferguson decision makers hold negative stereotypes about African Americans, and lack of personal responsibility is one of them. Application of this stereotype furthers the disproportionate impact of Ferguson’s police and court practices," the report states. "It causes court and police decision makers to discredit African Americans’ explanations for not being able to pay tickets and allows officials to disown the harms of Ferguson’s law enforcement practices."
Clay said the "disturbing findings" within the report "demand urgent remedies which must be swiftly implemented without obstruction or delay, and without further denials of the painful and undeniable facts."
"It should serve as a template for transformational change, not just in Ferguson, but across this country," the congressman added.