A federal civil rights investigation of the Ferguson, Mo., police force has concluded that the department violated the Constitution with discriminatory policing practices against African Americans, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the report.
The investigation, the source says, concluded that blacks were disproportionately targeted by the police and the justice system, which has led to a lack of trust in police and courts and to few partnerships for public safety.
The federal probe was launched last September, as the community was still reeling from the case of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man who was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer. The case led to days of violent protests; eventually, a grand jury declined to charge Wilson with a crime.
The full report will be released on Wednesday, but the source described two emails included in the report that were exchanged between police and local court employees.
One says Obama will not be president for long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” Another says a black woman in New Orleans was admitted to a hospital to end her pregnancy and then got a check two weeks later from “Crime Stoppers.”
As for data, the report found that blacks were disproportionately targeted by the police and the justice system.
Blacks make up 67 percent of the population in Ferguson. But they make up 85 percent of people subject to vehicle stops and 93 percent of those arrested. Blacks are twice as likely to be searched as whites, but less likely to have drugs or weapons.
The report found that 88 percent of times in which Ferguson police used force it was against blacks and all 14 cases of police dog bites involved blacks.
The report uncovered similar statistics in the courts system.
Blacks were 68 percent less likely to have cases dismissed by Ferguson municipal judges and disproportionately likely to be subject to arrest warrants. From October 2012 to October 2014, 96 percent of people arrested in traffic stops solely for an outstanding warrant were black.
Blacks accounted for 95 percent of jaywalking charges, 94 percent of failure-to-comply charges and 92 percent of all disturbing-the-peace charges.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
A Justice Department review has found that police and local courts in Ferguson, Mo., routinely violate the Constitution and federal laws. Federal civil rights investigators cite a pattern of racial bias. This is a preview of a complete report that will be out tomorrow. The investigation followed last summer’s shooting of 18-year-old African American Michael Brown by a white police officer, Darren Wilson.
And NPR’s justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us now to talk about this report. Carrie, you have confirmed that Justice Department prosecutors did not find enough evidence to bring federal civil rights charges against Officer Wilson, but they did find evidence of other widespread wrongdoing in the Ferguson Police Department.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Melissa, law enforcement sources tell me not to expect any charges against Officer Darren Wilson, but federal civil rights investigators at the Justice Department conducted interviews with city officials, community members, reviewed police records, data on traffic stops and tickets. And that review, Melissa, has resulted in a conclusion that Ferguson Police Department and the municipal court engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination. The picture is not pretty. Some numbers here – blacks make up 67 percent of the population in Ferguson, but they’re 85 percent of the people who are stopped and 93 percent of those arrested in traffic stops.
And they also disproportionally face charges for jaywalking, disturbing the peace, failing to obey police – Melissa, same with use of force by police. Justice Department investigators finding all 14 episodes where police dogs bit people, African Americans were involved.
BLOCK: And the Justice Department, you mentioned, also has found fault with the Ferguson Municipal Court. What are the specific problems there?
JOHNSON: According to law enforcement sources, Justice found the court system also demonstrates a pattern or practice of discrimination. Blacks are 68 percent less likely to have their cases dismissed. And here’s some more data. From October 2012 to October 2014, 96 percent of people arrested in traffic stops solely for having outstanding court warrants were African American people.
BLOCK: Carrie, you’ve been reporting that some racist e-mails have surfaced in the course of this investigation between policy – police and court officials in Ferguson. What can you tell us about those?
JOHNSON: This is some new information. A law enforcement source described two e-mails to me that we don’t have the names of the senders or the recipients, Melissa. One e-mail says, President Obama will not remain in the White House for long because, quote, “what black man holds a steady job for four years?” Another e-mail, Melissa, supposed to be a joke, I guess, describes a black woman going into the hospital to end her pregnancy. A couple of weeks later she gets a check. She asks why – the punchline of the joke is, the money is from the crime stoppers program. In other words, evidence of a state of mind – a culture in Ferguson the Justice Department believes that justice is trying to change.
BLOCK: So if they’re going to do that – if they’re going to change that culture – that embedded culture in Ferguson, what can they do about that?
JOHNSON: The full report of their findings is likely to emerge tomorrow. Justice wants to restore trust in law enforcement, institute changes in hiring, training, requiring the police and the courts to keep more data. And this would happen, Melissa, either through a settlement or a lawsuit. But the ball is going to be in Ferguson’s court. It’s relatively rare for a city or state to fight DOJ in these cases. There have been about 20 of these investigations in the course of the Obama administration. But of course, policing is local, and the federal government can’t be everywhere. That’s why a culture shift is so important as the president called for yesterday when his policing task force issued their report.
BLOCK: OK, NPR’s justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks so much.
JOHNSON: You’re welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.