A federal judge in St. Louis says Ferguson is making “good progress” in revamping its police procedures, even as St. Louis struggles with the aftermath of a white former police officer being found not guilty of killing a black man in 2011. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry is overseeing the federal consent decree between Ferguson and the Justice Department. The decree is the result of unconstitutional police practices by Ferguson police after the 2014 killing of Micheal Brown by a white police officer. Read more about the contrast between the two Missouri municipalities at HuffPost.
Two police officers have been shot during a protest outside the Ferguson police headquarters early this morning. The shooting came just hours after Police Chief Thomas Jackson quit following last week’s Justice Department report finding widespread racial bias in the city’s criminal justice system. Jackson is the sixth Ferguson official to be forced out in the wake of the report, including the city manager and the top municipal judge. Police say both of the wounded officers have “serious” injuries.
(CNN) After a police officer shot Michael Brown, the Federal Department of Justice conducted an investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department. What investigators found was a “pattern and practice” of discrimination against African-Americans. In a town with a black population of 67%, black people represented 85% of vehicle searches, 90% of the traffic violations and 93% of the arrests. There is no way to justify this.
The Department of Justice has an opportunity to gut the Ferguson Police Department and rebuild it from scratch. In fact, it’s more than an opportunity: It’s a necessity.
In the court of law, there is an old closing argument that goes like this: You sit down, pour yourself a bowl of stew, and find that the first piece of meat that you taste is rancid. You don’t put just that piece aside; you throw out the whole bowl. Lawyers use this story to say that if you catch a witness lying about one thing, then you can’t believe anything they say.
Unfortunately, it is an analogy that can be applied to the Ferguson Police Department. The Department of Justice report revealing unquestionable racist bias that permeated the entire department cannot be ignored, and the problems it reveals cannot be fixed from the inside. If there are a few good cops in the Ferguson Police Department, they need to leave, and they need to go elsewhere to continue their proud law enforcement career without being overshadowed by their involvement in a poisoned organization.
In fact, everyone in the Ferguson Police Department needs to leave, from the top to the bottom. The Police Department should be completely reconstituted under Department of Justice control in a manner that ensures that citizens of Ferguson receive the type of public service they pay for and deserve — and more importantly, in a manner that protects their rights, not only as citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, but as constitutionally protected citizens of our country.
A completely rebuilt Ferguson Police Department, established with a charter to enforce the law with equality, could serve as an example for every law enforcement agency in the country.
A new Ferguson Police Department could show what a concerted, roots-up effort toward nonracist behavior in a police department can be. Under Justice Department leadership, the Ferguson Police Department could become a model for practices such as equipping all police with body cameras, community policing and better use of force training.
If we can create from the ashes of the Ferguson Police Department a model that works, it may provide some consolation for minorities who have been disproportionately targeted by law enforcement.
And if the black community in Ferguson — in fact, people of every race in Ferguson — can look back five years from now and see an unbiased organization of public servants who give respect and get respect, who reduce fear rather than cause it, then perhaps the tragedy of Michael Brown’s death will stand for something.
Late on a September night in 2011, a 30-year-old black man named Jerry Benoit was crossing Linden Boulevard in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, when he was approached by a plainclothes policeman who saw him tugging at his waistband — a sign, the sergeant would say later, that he might be carrying an illegal gun. Benoit, who had prior convictions on weapons and armed robbery charges, fled down East 49th Street, allegedly firing two wayward shots at the officer now pursuing him. He disappeared into a back lot, drawing a full stakeout by the NYPD. Finally, with the cordon tightening around him and a police helicopter beating overhead, Benoit made a break for it. Hopping over a fence, he encountered an officer at close range and allegedly fired again. This time the cops shot back, unloading more than 40 rounds at Benoit, who was struck twice.
The case against Benoit took three years to go to trial — typical for New York’s backlogged courts. Jury selection began on November 17, 2014, and the attorneys gave their opening arguments on November 20. That night a policeman shot and killed 28-year-old Akai Gurley in the darkened stairwell of an East New York house project. On November 24, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson, and the protests there erupted back into flames. Nine days after that, with testimony in the Benoit case still proceeding, a grand jury in Staten Island declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantoleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
A few weeks later, while the jury was deliberating, Ismaaiyl Brinsley would shoot two cops while they sat in their police car in Bed-Stuy. On the facts, of course, these events should have had no bearing on Benoit and his encounter with the police. Every juror, during the verbal screening process known as voir dire, had assured the attorneys in the case that she or he could judge officers’ testimony without bias. Still, lawyers know that objectivity can be slippery. In criminal cases, they regularly worry about the “CSI Effect” — a false forensic expertise among jurors, fed by TV procedurals, that demand unrealistic levels of physical proof in order to convict. But the bigger concern isn’t how fake crime dramas affect jurors, but real ones. As the Benoit trial ultimately showed, surges in public opinion about law enforcement have a way of seeping into the courtroom.
“I admit, during the Garner thing I was happy,” Benoit’s defense attorney, Damien Brown, told me this week. Almost all of the prosecution’s witnesses called to the stand in his client’s case would be the officers involved that night, so the verdict would rest on the jury’s willingness to trust the cops’ version of events. (The District Attorney’s office declined to comment for this story.) When Benoit was finally taken by police, Brown said, he’d even put his hands up the way Mike Brown famously had. In the courtroom high above Jay Street, Brown worked to harness the impression that New York’s police, too, had run wild. He questioned the handling of the evidence. He questioned why no one had taken a statement from Benoit in the hospital. He questioned why the revolver allegedly recovered at the scene showed up in evidence with no serial number on it. (What he did not do was put Benoit on the stand to tell his own story, because the judge had ruled that the prosecution would be able to ask Benoit about the specifics of his prior offenses.)
Brown’s best play, he figured, was to use what he knew about the prosecution’s star witness, Sergeant Mourad Mourad, the officer who had first pursued Benoit. A year before the trial, Mourad and his partner had shot and killed a Brooklyn teenager, Kimani Gray — something that could sway the jury under any circumstances, but particularly damaging after Ferguson. The judge had barred discussion of the Gray shooting, but Brown made a calculated decision to bring it up anyway. “Isn’t it true,” he asked Mourad during a testy exchange about the use of force by police, “that you were put on desk duty for shooting and killing a civilian?” The judge “blasted” him for it, he says, but the point had been made. “I knew what I was doing,” he said later. “I don’t take it back.”
“FEAR AND FLAMES IN FERGUSON” — St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Officer Darren Wilson will not face state criminal charges in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch announced Monday night that a grand jury delivered a ‘no true bill’ after considering possible charges in the case, meaning an indictment will not be handed down.
“The grand jury considered a range of charges from murder in the first degree to involuntary manslaughter, McCulloch said, before returning the decision not to indict.
‘As tragic as this is, it was a not a crime,’ McCulloch said. … A separate federal investigation into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights is continuing, officials said. McCulloch said the two investigations had worked in harmony and evidence was shared with investigators from both levels of government”