DOJ files civil rights suit against Ferguson

Ferguson, Baltimore
Antonio French

The Justice Department is filing a lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, Mo., for civil rights violations.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the suit on Wednesday, and said the DOJ was "alleging a pattern and practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the First, the Fourth and the Fourteenth amendments of the constitution, and federal civil rights laws."

Ferguson gained national attention in 2014 after a white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed a black teenager Michael Brown.

A St. Louis grand jury ultimately decided not to indict Wilson, sparking violent protests.

The Justice Department, though, conducted its own probe into the city. The report concluded that Ferguson police routinely discriminated against black residents. 

Lynch said the two cites had spent months negotiating an agreement to avoid legal action.

The Ferguson city council on Tuesday, though, decided not to accept the agreement, instead voting unanimously to add seven conditions.

Lynch blasted the city council's decision.

“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," Lynch said. "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.

"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.” 

Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department's civil rights department, blamed city officials for voting to change the agreement negotiators drew up.

“The Ferguson City Council has attempted to unilaterally amend the negotiated agreement," Gupta said. "Their vote to do so creates an unnecessary delay in the essential work to bring constitutional policing to the city, and marks an unfortunate outcome for concerned community members and Ferguson police officers."

She defended the negotiated agreement, saying it would "provide Ferguson residents a police department and municipal court that fully respects civil rights and operates free from racial discrimination."

According to a Justice Department statement, the lawsuit alleges that Ferguson's police department conducted unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests. Police are also accused of using "excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment."

The police also interfered "with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment," the DOJ claims.

The department is also accused of "discriminatory law enforcement conduct against African Americans in violation of the 14th Amendment and federal statutory law."

This story was updated at 6:18 p.m.