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Ferguson Mayor: City Is Willing to Challenge Feds in Court

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 1:10pm
Jim Salter, Associated Press

Protesters chant and yell after the Ferguson, Mo., city council meeting in Ferguson on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, where the council voted to approve a modified consent decree with the United States Department of Justice. It is unclear if the Department of Justice will agree to the modifications. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)If the Justice Department does not go along with the changes, a civil rights lawsuit is possible, potentially costing Ferguson millions of dollars in legal fees. Gupta did not specifically address whether a lawsuit would be filed but said the department would take "the necessary legal actions" to ensure Ferguson's police and court practices comply with the Constitution and federal laws.

Though it's not uncommon for city officials to seek changes to agreements even after they've been negotiated, the overwhelming majority of investigations into unconstitutional policing practices nonetheless end in a settlement rather than a lawsuit, said Samuel Bagenstos, the former No. 2 official in the Justice Department's civil rights division.

"If Ferguson insists on making significant changes to the deal they've already worked out, that's probably not going to work out well for them," said Bagenstos, a law professor at the University of Michigan. "And I think at the end of the day, Ferguson understands that, and we'll probably see a deal pretty soon."

The council's biggest change removes a requirement that police salaries be raised. City officials believe meeting that provision would also require fire department salaries to rise, potentially costing $1 million annually.

Another provision states that parts of the agreement will not apply to any other governmental entity that might take over duties currently provided by Ferguson. That means, for example, that St. Louis County would not be beholden to the agreement if it takes over policing in Ferguson.

Knowles said St. Louis County police have already stated they would not consider taking over patrol in Ferguson if burdened with mandates of the consent agreement.

The council's vote came at the end of an often-boisterous meeting that had been moved to the Ferguson Community Center because of the crowd of around 300. The vast majority of speakers supported the original agreement.

Ferguson has been under scrutiny since the killing of Brown, whose father stood quietly at the back of the meeting. The black, unarmed 18-year-old was fatally shot Aug. 9, 2014, by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation on a street. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to charge Wilson, who later resigned. He was cleared of wrongdoing by the Justice Department.

The shooting was a catalyst in the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked a national dialogue about police use of force.

The agreement requires hiring a monitor, instituting police diversity training, and buying software and hiring staff to analyze records on arrests, use of force and other police matters.

A city analysis performed in recent days determined the city's cost would be up to $3.7 million for the first year alone, and $1.8 million to $3 million in each of the second and third years.

Some who spoke at the meeting agreed that the cost of the original agreement was simply too high for a city with a $14.5 million budget and already facing a $2.8 million deficit that largely stems from overtime for police during protests, lost sales tax revenue from businesses damaged in fires and looting, and legal expenses.

Source: The AP

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