(CNSNews.com) – U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Wednesday that the Justice Department will proceed with a lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, Mo., after the city council rejected a court-enforceable consent decree to overhaul the city’s police department and courts.
“Today, the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit in federal district court against the city of Ferguson, Mo., alleging a pattern and practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the 1st, the 4th, and the 14th Amendments of the Constitution and federal civil rights laws. We intend to aggressively prosecute this case, and we intend to prevail,” said Lynch.
According to the DOJ’s findings from its investigation one year ago, Ferguson’s police department engaged in “expansive and deliberate” violations against residents, violating the 4th Amendment “by stopping people without reasonable suspicion, by arresting them without cause and by using unreasonable force,” Lynch said.
“They made enforcement decisions based on the way individuals expressed themselves, and they unnecessarily escalated non life-threatening situations,” she said. “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 they occurred disproportionately against African-American residents of Ferguson, and they were profoundly and fundamentally unconstitutional,” Lynch added.
The DOJ’s findings “demonstrated a clear pattern and practice of violations of the Constitution and of federal law,” according to Lynch. The findings were based on information from Ferguson citizens, the city’s records, and its officials.
“After announcing our findings almost a 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,” the attorney general said.
“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 systemic and systematic deficiencies,” Lynch said.
“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,” she said.
“As agreed, it was presented to the Ferguson City Council for approval or rejection, and last night, the Ferguson City Council rejected the consent decree approved by their own negotiators. Their decision leaves us no further choice,” Lynch said.
The Associated Press reports that the Ferguson City Council sought changes to the consent decree, including some limiting the city’s cost. In the first year alone, the changes would cost the city up to $3.7 million, prompting concerns that it might bankrupt the city. The changes are estimated to cost $1.8 million to $3 million in each of the second and third years.
To pay for the changes and reduce the city’s deficit, voters will be asked in April to approve property and sales tax hikes. The city is also seeking federal grants, the AP reported.
“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 rules that thousands of other police departments follow every day,” Lynch said.
“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,” Lynch added.