Ferguson Report: Rampant Racism and Other Scathing Findings From Probe

PHOTO: A man is detained after a standoff with police, Aug. 18, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo.PlayCharlie Riedel/AP Photo
WATCH Reaction to Ferguson Officer Cleared of Civil Rights Violations

The Department of Justice today released its investigation of the Ferguson police, which found a pattern and practice of discriminatory policing.

The report includes seven racist emails sent by Ferguson officers. In its review, the Justice Department also found 161 use of force complaints against the Ferguson police from 2010 to 2014. Only one case was founded and no officer was disciplined.

"As detailed in our searing report ... this investigation found a community that was deeply polarized; a community where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents," said US Attorney General Eric Holder. "A community where local authorities consistently approached law enforcement not as a means for protecting public safety, but as a way to generate revenue. A community where both policing and municipal court practices were found to disproportionately harm African American residents. A community where this harm frequently appears to stem, at least in part, from racial bias – both implicit and explicit. And a community where all of these conditions, unlawful practices, and constitutional violations have not only severely undermined the public trust, eroded police legitimacy, and made local residents less safe –- but created an intensely charged atmosphere where people feel under assault and under siege by those charged to serve and protect them."

The conclusions come nearly seven months after a confrontation with officer Darren Wilson left 18-year-old Michael Brown dead.

In the wake of the controversial slaying of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, Brown’s death reignited a national debate over race in America and sparked protests across the country. Separately today, the DOJ announced that Wilson will not be charged in Brown's death.

Here is a sampling of some of the 100-page report's most scathing findings:

RACIST E-MAILS

  • A May 2011 email stated -- “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.’”
  • A Nov. 2008 email read -- “President Barack Obama would not be President for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”
  • An email described a man seeking to obtain “welfare" for his dogs because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddies are.” (June 2011)
  • An April 2011 email depicted President Obama as a chimpanzee.
  • A Dec. 2011 email included jokes based on offensive stereotypes about Muslims
  • An Oct. 2011 email included a photo of a bare-chested group of dancing women, apparently in Africa, with the caption, “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.”

POLICING PRACTICES

The investigation has found that the Ferguson police department “routinely” stopped African American drivers without reasonable suspicion, arrested them without probable cause, and used unreasonable force against them. The police actions, the investigation found, were “unconstitutional,” and amounted to a “pattern and practice” of unlawful conduct.

"Conducting stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause" -- both violations of the Fourth Amendment, according to the DOJ.

RACIAL BIAS

The report found that racial bias and a desire to generate revenue drove much of the law enforcement efforts in Ferguson. African Americans accounted for 85 percent of the vehicle stops, 90 percent of the citations, and 93 percent of the arrests, despite making up only 67 percent of the population. “African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops,” the report found, “but are found in possession of contraband 26 percent less often than white drivers.”

Harmful municipal court and police practices are due, at least in part, to intentional discrimination as "demonstrated by direct evidence of racial bias and stereotyping about African Americans by certain Ferguson police and municipal court officials," according to the DOJ.

USE OF FORCE

When it comes to use of force by the police, the report found that nearly 90 percent of the documented force cases involved African Americans. Senior DOJ officials said that they found 161 excessive force cases filed against the police from 2010 to 2014, but only one had been “founded.” No officers were disciplined for excessive force in that time period. And, in every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the investigation found, the person bitten was an African- American.

26 REMEDIES

In summary, investigators say that even before the shooting of Micheal Brown, years of biased and unlawful policing practices has eroded community trust.

The Department of Justice has recommended 26 steps the city should take to start correcting these longstanding issues. Among them:

  • Implement measures to reduce police bias and its impact on police behavior
  • Implement a robust system of community policing
  • Stop search, ticking and arrest practices, and focus on community protection
  • Change use of force practices and encourage de-escalation and use of minimal force
  • Change response to students to avoid criminalizing youth
  • Improve and increase training generally
  • Increase civilian involvement in police decision making
  • Improve officer supervision
  • Develop mechanisms to more effectively respond to allegations of officer misconduct
  • Change Court procedures to simplify processes
  • Reform trial procedures to ensure full compliance with due process
  • Stop using warrants as a means of collecting owed fines and fees

At a briefing about the results of the investigation, top DOJ officials – who asked not be named – said that some of the recommendations are already being implemented, and they believed Ferguson officials had to ability to change. If the city does not make the recommended changes, these officials said that the Justice Department would not hesitate to file suit against the city.

The Ferguson Police Department did not return a call seeking comment. In a news conference late today, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said the city has cooperated with the DOJ, received the results of the investigation and has already acted on changes, including diversity training for police and African-American hires. The city immediately placed three employees who allegedly sent racially-charged emails on administrative leave. One of the three has been fired and the fate of the others awaits the results of an internal investigation. "That type of behavior will not be tolerated," Knowles said. "We must do better not only as a city but as a state and country."

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