The Department of Justice on Wednesday released its long-awaited report on the Ferguson Police Department, a blistering review that found entrenched racial biases within a force more concerned with generating revenue rather than maintaining public order.
The report was deeply critical of the Ferguson police, the municipal court, and city council.
"Ferguson's harmful 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," the DOJ said.
"As detailed in our report, this investigation found a community that was deeply polarized, and where deep distrust and hostility often characterized interactions between police and area residents," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
Here are the most shocking excerpts from the 102-page report:
City officials were in express contact with Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson about issuing more citations in order to raise city revenues:
In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief Jackson that "unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it's not an insignificant issue."
Similarly, in March 2013, the Finance Director wrote to the City Manager: "Court fees are anticipated to rise about 7.5%. I did ask the Chief if he thought the PD could deliver 10% increase. He indicated they could try."
As such, the DOJ found "insufficient thought" was given to whether such revenue-focused policing actually "promote[s] public safety or unnecessarily undermine[s] community trust and cooperation."
Investigators also found that police officers viewed African Americans as "sources of revenue":
Partly as a consequence of City and FPD priorities, many officers appear to see some residents, especially those who live in Ferguson's predominantly African-American neighborhoods, less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue.
The DOJ added that "city, police, and court officials for years have worked in concert to maximize revenue at every stage of the enforcement process."
Federal officials also said the Ferguson Municipal Court — a judicial body that hears charges brought under the municipal code but that is still part of the police department — was complicit in the revenue-raising:
The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City's financial interests.
The court operates "not with the primary goal of administering justice or protecting the rights of the accused, but of maximizing revenue," the DOJ found.
The report found that the court "almost always" imposes a fine payable to the city, but also issues arrest warrants for those who do not appear in court or fail to pay their fines.
"As a result, violations that would normally not result in a penalty of imprisonment can, and frequently do, lead to municipal warrants, arrests, and jail time," the report stated.
Additionally, far more people appear in the Ferguson Municipal Court than is required under Missouri law, the DOJ found. Consequently, more arrest warrants and fines are issued in turn.
The number of cases before the municipal court has also substantially increased in recent years:
...at the end of fiscal year 2009, the municipal court had roughly 24,000 traffic cases and 28,000 non-traffic cases pending. As of October 31, 2014, both of those figures had roughly doubled to 53,000 and 50,000 cases, respectively. In fiscal year 2009, 16,178 new cases were filed, and 8,727 were resolved. In 2014, by contrast, 24,256 new offenses were filed, and 10,975 offenses were resolved.
Not surprisingly, the total fees collected also skyrocketed:
Of the $11.07 million in general fund revenue the City collected in fiscal year 2010, $1.38 million came from fines and fees collected by the court; similarly, in fiscal year 2011, the City's general fund revenue of $11.44 million included $1.41 million from fines and fees. In its budget for fiscal year 2012, however, the City predicted that revenue from municipal fines and fees would increase over 30% from the previous year's amount to $1.92 million; the court exceeded that target, collecting $2.11 million. In its budget for fiscal year 2013, the City budgeted for fines and fees to yield $2.11 million; the court exceeded that target as well, collecting $2.46 million.
More than 9,000 arrest warrants were issued by the municipal court in the 2013 fiscal year alone. "Ferguson uses its police department in large part as a collection agency for its municipal court," the report found. "Ferguson's municipal court issues arrest warrants at a rate that police officials have called, in internal emails, 'staggering.'"
In a lengthy section on racial bias within the Ferguson Police Department, the DOJ highlighted some staggering statistics, some of which we have put in bold:
Ferguson's law enforcement practices overwhelmingly impact African Americans. Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson's population.
African Americans are more than twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops even after controlling for non-race based variables such as the reason the vehicle stop was initiated, but are found in possession of contraband 26% less often than white drivers, suggesting officers are impermissibly considering race as a factor when determining whether to search.
African Americans are more likely to be cited and arrested following a stop regardless of why the stop was initiated and are more likely to receive multiple citations during a single incident.
From 2012 to 2014, FPD issued four or more citations to African Americans on 73 occasions, but issued four or more citations to non-African Americans only twice.
FPD appears to bring certain offenses almost exclusively against African Americans. For example, from 2011 to 2013, African Americans accounted for 95% of Manner of Walking in Roadway charges, and 94% of all Failure to Comply charges.
These disparities are also present in FPD's use of force. Nearly 90% of documented force used by FPD officers was used against African Americans. In every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African American.
DOJ officials also expressly rejected the argument that Ferguson's black residents feature more prominently in crime statistics because they are more prone to breaking the law.
Our investigation indicates that this disproportionate burden on African Americans cannot be explained by any difference in the rate at which people of different races violate the law. Rather, our investigation has revealed that these disparities occur, at least in part, because of unlawful bias against and stereotypes about African Americans. We have found substantial evidence of racial bias among police and court staff in Ferguson.
They also included this example:
...we discovered emails circulated by police supervisors and court staff that stereotype racial minorities as criminals, including one email that joked about an abortion by an African-American woman being a means of crime control.
The department found Ferguson officers, 94% of who are white, sent emails to their official addresses during work hours that were "derogatory, dehumanizing, and demonstrative of impermissible bias," including the following:
*A November 2008 email stated that President Barack Obama would not be President for very long because "what black man holds a steady job for four years."
*A March 2010 email mocked African Americans through speech and familial stereotypes, using a story involving child support. One line from the email read: "I be so glad that dis be my last child support payment! Month after month, year after year, all dose payments!"
*An April 2011 email depicted President Barack Obama as a chimpanzee.
*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 June 2011 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."
*An October 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."
*A December 2011 email included jokes that are based on offensive stereotypes about Muslims.
The DOJ did not find any indication that any official who engaged in sending or sharing the emails was ever disciplined. "Nor did we see a single instance in which a police or court recipient of such an email asked that the sender refrain from sending such emails, or any indication that these emails were reported as inappropriate," the DOJ wrote. "Instead, the emails were usually forwarded along to others."
The report included this anecdote of a black man who lost his job after he encountered Ferguson police in an incident the DOJ described as a violation of his rights:
...in the summer of 2012, a 32-year-old African-American man sat in his car cooling off after playing basketball in a Ferguson public park. An officer pulled up behind the man's car, blocking him in, and demanded the man's Social Security number and identification.
Without any cause, the officer accused the man of being a pedophile, referring to the presence of children in the park, and ordered the man out of his car for a pat-down, although the officer had no reason to believe the man was armed.
The officer also asked to search the man's car. The man objected, citing his constitutional rights.
In response, the officer arrested the man, reportedly at gunpoint, charging him with eight violations of Ferguson's municipal code.
One charge, Making a False Declaration, was for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., "Mike" instead of "Michael"), and an address which, although legitimate, was different from the one on his driver's license. Another charge was for not wearing a seat belt, even though he was seated in a parked car.
The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator's license, and with having no operator's license in his possession.
The man told us that, because of these charges, he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government that he had held for years.
It also found several instances in which police violated the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens by searching or detaining people without reasonable suspicion:
For example, in July 2013 police encountered an African-American man in a parking lot while on their way to arrest someone else at an apartment building. Police knew that the encountered man was not the person they had come to arrest.
Nonetheless, without even reasonable suspicion, they handcuffed the man, placed him in the back of a patrol car, and ran his record. It turned out he was the intended arrestee's landlord.
The landlord went on to help the police enter the person's unit to effect the arrest, but he later filed a complaint alleging racial discrimination and unlawful detention.
Ignoring the central fact that they had handcuffed a man and put him in a police car despite having no reason to believe he had done anything wrong, a sergeant vigorously defended FPD's actions, characterizing the detention as "minimal" and pointing out that the car was air conditioned.
Another African-American man recalled this experience with Ferguson police.
In October 2012, police officers pulled over an African-American man who had lived in Ferguson for 16 years, claiming that his passenger-side brake light was broken.
The driver happened to have replaced the light recently and knew it to be functioning properly. Nonetheless, according to the man's written complaint, one officer stated, "let's see how many tickets you're going to get," while a second officer tapped his Electronic Control Weapon ("ECW") on the roof of the man's car.
The officers wrote the man a citation for "tail light/reflector/license plate light out." They refused to let the man show them that his car's equipment was in order, warning him, "don't you get out of that car until you get to your house."
The man, who believed he had been racially profiled, was so upset that he went to the police station that night to show a sergeant that his brakes and license plate light worked.
The department was also highly critical of officers making baseless arrests that do not meet the required elements of a criminal offense, including this example:
...in November 2013, an officer approached five African-American young people listening to music in a car. Claiming to have smelled marijuana, the officer placed them under arrest for disorderly conduct based on their "gathering in a group for the purposes of committing illegal activity."
The young people were detained and charged—some taken to jail, others delivered to their parents — despite the officer finding no marijuana, even after conducting an inventory search of the car.
Similarly, in February 2012, an officer wrote an arrest notification ticket for Peace Disturbance for "loud music" coming from a car. The arrest ticket appears unlawful as the officer did not assert, and there is no other indication, that a third party was disturbed by the music — an element of the offense.
Officials also blasted the Ferguson Police Department for routinely charging people with "failure to comply" offenses, even when it is not a crime for a person to refuse an officer's request.
The report found that officers — whom the DOJ described as "quick to overreact to challenges and verbal slights" — will "frequently make enforcement decisions based on what subjects say, or how they say it."
For example, in July 2012, a police officer arrested a business owner on charges of Interfering in Police Business and Misuse of 911 because she objected to the officer's detention of her employee.
The officer had stopped the employee for "walking unsafely in the street" as he returned to work from the bank. According to FPD records, the owner "became verbally involved," came out of her shop three times after being asked to stay inside, and called 911 to complain to the Police Chief.
The officer characterized her protestations as interference and arrested her inside her shop. The arrest violated the First Amendment, which "does not allow such speech to be made a crime." Hill, 482 U.S. at 462.
Indeed, the officer's decision to arrest the woman after she tried to contact the Police Chief suggests that he may have been retaliating against her for reporting his conduct.
The report also criticized officers for violating people's rights to free speech under the First Amendment.
Officers in Ferguson also use their arrest power to retaliate against individuals for using language that, while disrespectful, is protected by the Constitution.
For example, one afternoon in September 2012, an officer stopped a 20-year-old African-American man for dancing in the middle of a residential street. The officer obtained the man's identification and ran his name for warrants. Finding none, he told the man he was free to go.
The man responded with profanities. When the officer told him to watch his language and reminded him that he was not being arrested, the man continued using profanity and was arrested for Manner of Walking in Roadway.
The report also found several incidents in which police officers arrested people for videotaping their encounters with the authorities:
In May 2014, an officer pulled over an African-American woman who was driving with her two sons. During the traffic stop, the woman's 16-year-old son began recording with his cell phone. The officer ordered him to put down the phone and refrain from using it for the remainder of the stop. The officer claimed this was "for safety reasons."
The situation escalated, apparently due to the officer's rudeness and the woman's response. According to the 16 year old, he began recording again, leading the officer to wrestle the phone from him.
Additional officers arrived and used force to arrest all three civilians under disputed circumstances that could have been clarified by a video recording.
... In June 2014, an African-American couple who had taken their children to play at the park allowed their small children to urinate in the bushes next to their parked car. An officer stopped them, threatened to cite them for allowing the children to "expose themselves," and checked the father for warrants.
When the mother asked if the officer had to detain the father in front of the children, the officer turned to the father and said, "you're going to jail because your wife keeps running her mouth."
The mother then began recording the officer on her cell phone. The officer became irate, declaring, "you don't videotape me!"
As the officer drove away with the father in custody for "parental neglect," the mother drove after them, continuing to record. The officer then pulled over and arrested her for traffic violations.
When the father asked the officer to show mercy, he responded, "no more mercy, since she wanted to videotape," and declared "nobody videotapes me."
The officer then took the phone, which the couple's daughter was holding. After posting bond, the couple found that the video had been deleted.
A month later, the same officer pulled over a truck hauling a trailer that did not have operating tail lights. The officer asked for identification from all three people inside, including a 54-year-old white man in the passenger seat who asked why.
"You have to have a reason. This is a violation of my Fourth Amendment rights," he asserted.
The officer, who characterized the man's reaction as "suspicious," responded, "the reason is, if you don't hand it to me, I'll arrest you." The man provided his identification.
The officer then asked the man to move his cell phone from his lap to the dashboard, "for my safety."
The man said, "okay, but I'm going to record this."
Due to nervousness, he could not open the recording application and quickly placed the phone on the dash. The officer then announced that the man was under arrest for Failure to Comply.
At the end of the traffic stop, the officer gave the driver a traffic citation, indicated at the other man, and said, "you're getting this ticket because of him."
Upon bringing that man to the jail, someone asked the officer what offense the man had committed. The officer responded, "he's one of those guys who watches CNBC too much about his rights."
The man did not say anything else, fearing what else the officer might be capable of doing.
He later told us, "I never dreamed I could end up in jail for this. I'm scared of driving through Ferguson now."
Officials also questioned the tactics of Ferguson police used as frequently as last month:
Despite these lawsuits, it appears that FPD continues to interfere with individuals' rights to protest and record police activities.
On February 9, 2015, several individuals were protesting outside the Ferguson police station on the six-month anniversary of Michael Brown's death. According to protesters, and consistent with several video recordings from that evening, the protesters stood peacefully in the police department's parking lot, on the sidewalks in front of it, and across the street.
Video footage shows that two FPD vehicles abruptly accelerated from the police parking lot into the street. An officer announced, "everybody here's going to jail," causing the protesters to run.
Video shows that as one man recorded the police arresting others, he was arrested for interfering with police action. Officers pushed him to the ground, began handcuffing him, and announced, "stop resisting or you're going to get tased."
It appears from the video, however, that the man was neither interfering nor resisting. A protester in a wheelchair who was live streaming the protest was also arrested. Another officer moved several people with cameras away from the scene of the arrests, warning them against interfering and urging them to back up or else be arrested for Failure to Obey.
The sergeant shouted at those filming that they would be arrested for Manner of Walking if they did not back away out of the street, even though it appears from the video recordings that the protesters and those recording were on the sidewalk at most, if not all, times.
Six people were arrested during this incident. It appears that officers' escalation of this incident was unnecessary and in response to derogatory comments written in chalk on the FPD parking lot asphalt and on a police vehicle.
The report also highlighted the "excessive" use of electronic control weapons, or tasers, by some officers.
FPD's pattern of excessive force includes using ECWs in a manner that is unconstitutional, abusive, and unsafe. For example, in August 2010, a lieutenant used an ECW in drive-stun mode against an African-American woman in the Ferguson City Jail because she had refused to remove her bracelets.18 The lieutenant resorted to his ECW even though there were five officers present and the woman posed no physical threat.
…In September 2012, an officer drive-stunned an African- American woman who he had placed in the back of his patrol car but who had stretched out her leg to block him from closing the door. The woman was in handcuffs.
In May 2013, officers drive-stunned a handcuffed African-American man who verbally refused to get out of the back seat of a police car once it had arrived at the jail. The man did not physically resist arrest or attempt to assault the officers.
According to the man, he was also punched in the face and head. That allegation was neither reported by the involved officers nor investigated by their supervisor, who dismissed it.
The report found that Ferguson police often take "punitive" action against citizens, using force in response to behavior that is "distasteful but does not pose a threat."
"The punitive use of force by officers is unconstitutional and, in many cases, criminal," the report stated.
Officials also said that police officers, not citizens, would routinely be responsible for "escalating" a situation, giving the following example:
In January 2013, a patrol sergeant stopped an African-American man after he saw the man talk to an individual in a truck and then walk away. The sergeant detained the man, although he did not articulate any reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot.
When the man declined to answer questions or submit to a frisk — which the sergeant sought to execute despite articulating no reason to believe the man was armed — the sergeant grabbed the man by the belt, drew his ECW, and ordered the man to comply. The man crossed his arms and objected that he had not done anything wrong.
Video captured by the ECW's built-in camera shows that the man made no aggressive movement toward the officer. The sergeant fired the ECW, applying a five-second cycle of electricity and causing the man to fall to the ground. The sergeant almost immediately applied the ECW again, which he later justified in his report by claiming that the man tried to stand up.
The video makes clear, however, that the man never tried to stand — he only writhed in pain on the ground. The video also shows that the sergeant applied the ECW nearly continuously for 20 seconds, longer than represented in his report.
The man was charged with Failure to Comply and Resisting Arrest, but no independent criminal violation.
The report also dismissed out of hand the notion that black Ferguson residents lack of "personal responsibility" causes them to feature so prominently in the city's crime statistics.
Several Ferguson officials told us during our investigation that it is a lack of "personal responsibility" among African-American members of the Ferguson community that causes African Americans to experience disproportionate harm under Ferguson's approach to law enforcement.
Our investigation suggests that this explanation is at odd with the facts.
While there are people of all races who may lack personal responsibility, the harm of Ferguson's approach to law enforcement is largely due to the myriad systemic deficiencies discussed above.
Our investigation revealed African Americans making extraordinary efforts to pay off expensive tickets for minor, often unfairly charged, violations, despite systemic obstacles to resolving those tickets.
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.
Moreover, the DOJ found city officials would advance the so-called "personal responsibility" argument, while assisting white friends and colleagues in eliminating citations and fines.
It found one instance where the head of the municipal court, Judge Ronald Brockmeyer, agreed to "take care" of a failure to appear notice issued by the city of Breckenridge, where Brockmeyer also serves.
Brockmeyer also directly emailed the city's prosecuting attorney requesting a red light camera ticket against him be dismissed, which was then done.
The prosecuting attorney also dismissed tickets for a police patrol supervisor's relative and an employee of a day camp for which the city's mayor volunteers.
"City officials' application of the stereotype that African Americans lack "personal responsibility" to explain why Ferguson's practices harm African Americans, even as these same City officials exhibit a lack of personal—and professional—responsibility in handling their own and their friends' code violations, is further evidence of discriminatory bias on the part of decision makers central to the direction of law enforcement in Ferguson," the DOJ found.