Justice Dept. review finds pattern of racial bias among Ferguson police

By Sari Horwitz March 3 at 3:16 PM

The Justice Department will issue findings Wednesday that accuse the police department in Ferguson, Mo., of racial bias and routinely violating the constitutional rights of black citizens by stopping drivers without reasonable suspicion, making arrests without probable cause and using excessive force, officials said.

Federal officials opened their civil rights investigation into the Ferguson police department after the uproar in the St. Louis suburb and across the country over the fatal shooting in August of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. A grand jury in St. Louis declined to indict Wilson in November.

Federal officials will not bring civil rights charges against Wilson, but they see their broad civil rights investigation into the troubled Ferguson police department as the way to force significant changes in Ferguson policing.

Outgoing Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said last fall that the need for “wholesale change” in the Ferguson police department was “pretty clear.” In remarks two weeks ago, he said he was “confident that people will be satisfied with the results that we announce.”

In hundreds of interviews and in a broad review of more than 35,000 pages of Ferguson police records and other documents, Justice Department officials found that although African Americans make up 67 percent of the population in Ferguson, they accounted for 93 percent of all arrests between 2012 and 2014.

Justice Dept. finds racial bias in Ferguson police practices(1:04)
The Justice Department concludes that the Ferguson, Mo., police department routinely engages in racially biased practices. (Reuters)
“If the report of the Department of Justice findings are accurate, then it will confirm what Michael Brown’s family has believed all along, and that is that the tragic killing of their unarmed teenage son was part of a systemic pattern of policing of African American citizens in Ferguson,” said Benjamin Crump, the attorney for Brown’s family.

The findings come as Justice Department officials negotiate a settlement with the police department to change its practices. If they are unable to reach an agreement, the Justice Department could bring a lawsuit, as it has done against law enforcement agencies in other jurisdictions in recent years. A U.S. official said that Ferguson officials have been cooperating.

[Related videos: What Ferguson looks like, six months later]

As part of its findings, the Justice Department concluded that African Americans accounted for 85 percent of all people stopped by Ferguson police officers and 90 percent of all citations issued.