Attorney General Loretta Lynch is moving forward with a federal civil suit against the city of Ferguson, Missouri.
After the Ferguson City Council voted on Tuesday to amend a negotiated consent decree with the Justice Department, a federal complaint was filed Wednesday.
Presented to the United States District Court’s eastern district of Missouri, the suit cites violations of a violent crime control act from 1994 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The court documents state the Ferguson Police Department, along with the municipal court and city prosecuting office, engaged in an ongoing pattern of discrimination by depriving persons of their rights granted by federal law and the Constitution.
Wednesday, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch delivered remarks at press conference announcing the lawsuit to bring Constitutional Policing to Ferguson, Missouri…
Good afternoon and thank you all for being here. I am joined by Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.
Nearly a year ago, the Department of Justice released our findings in an investigation of the Police Department of Ferguson, Missouri. Our investigation uncovered a community in distress, in which residents felt alienated from their own police force. The Ferguson Police Department’s violations were expansive and deliberate. They violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without cause and using unreasonable force. They made enforcement decisions based on the way individuals expressed themselves and unnecessarily escalated non-threatening situations. These violations were not only egregious – they were routine. They were encouraged by the city in the interest of raising revenue. They were driven, at least in part, by racial bias and occurred disproportionately against African-American residents. And they were profoundly and fundamentally unconstitutional. These findings were based upon information received from Ferguson’s own citizens, from Ferguson’s own records and from Ferguson’s own officials. And they demonstrated a clear pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution and federal law.
After announcing our findings one year ago, we began negotiations with the city of Ferguson on a court-enforceable consent decree that would bring about necessary police and court reform. From the outset, we made clear that our goal was to reach an agreement to avoid litigation. But we also made clear that if there was no agreement, we would be forced to go to court to protect the rights of Ferguson residents. Painstaking negotiations lasted more than 26 weeks as we sought to remedy literally years of systematic deficiencies. A few weeks ago, the Department of Justice and Ferguson’s own negotiators came to an agreement that was both fair and cost-effective – and that would provide all the residents of Ferguson the constitutional and effective policing and court practices guaranteed to all Americans. As agreed, it was presented to the Ferguson City Council for approval or rejection. And last night, the city council rejected the consent decree approved by their own negotiators. Their decision leaves us no further choice.
Today, the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Ferguson, Missouri, alleging a pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution and federal civil rights laws. We intend to aggressively prosecute this case and I have no doubt that we will prevail.
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. 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. They have waited nearly a year for their municipal courts to commit to basic, reasonable rules and standards. But as our report made clear, the 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.
The Justice Department has initiated more than 20 civil rights investigations into law enforcement agencies in the last six years, including in Baltimore and Chicago. In the last 18 months, the department has reached settlements with police departments that included Cleveland and Albuquerque.
There have been occasional disagreements.
In 2012, the Justice Department sued Maricopa County, Arizona, after failing to reach agreement on allegations that the sheriff’s office targeted Latinos with discriminatory stops and arrests. County officials voted in July to settle parts of that lawsuit.
The federal government also sued North Carolina’s Alamance County following an investigation that alleged biased policing practices against Latinos there. But a federal judge last August ruled in the county’s favor, saying the Justice Department failed to prove the sheriff ordered deputies to target Hispanic residents. That case is on appeal.
Loretta E. Lynch was sworn in as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States by Vice President Joe Biden on April 27, 2015. President Barack Obama announced his intention to nominate Ms. Lynch on November 8, 2014.