Ferguson police acted in patterns of racial bias, Department of Justice to report

By Chuck Raasch St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Ferguson Police Department engaged in patterns of arrests and racial bias that violate the Constitution and federal law, the Department of Justice will say in its report begun after the Michael Brown shooting.

Law enforcement officials familiar with the DOJ’s findings said Tuesday the report will show that Ferguson police disproportionately stopped African-Americans for no reasonable suspicion, made arrests with no probable cause and used force disproportionately against blacks. It also found cases of racial bias in police practices and in emails by Ferguson police. And it says that the combination of racial bias and a dependency upon fines for revenue has led to wide gulf of distrust between police and black citizens.

Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce findings on the pattern and practices investigation as early as Wednesday. It is separate from an investigation over whether the civil rights of Brown, 18, were violated, when he was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The Department of Justice would not comment on when the civil rights investigation findings will be announced.


Several local and state officials, briefed by the Justice Department on Tuesday, said they expected both announcements Wednesday.

Anthony Gray, attorney for Brown’s family, said it’s unfortunate that it took a federal investigation to draw conclusions widely known in the St. Louis area.

“It’s upsetting, but I’m not surprised,” he said. “This wasn’t just about one teen being shot down in the street in broad daylight,” Gray continued. “But rather this came out of a mindset and a culture within the police department that allowed this to occur as it did.”

The report will say that between 2012 and 2014, while African-Americans made up 67 percent of the population in Ferguson, 85 percent of those subject to a vehicle stop were African-American, 90 percent who received citations were black and 93 percent of those arrested were black.

It also will say that African-American drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during vehicle stops but were 26 percent less likely to be in possession of illegal material.

In documented cases of use of force by Ferguson police, the report will say, 88 percent were against African-Americans.

Among the findings likely to provoke reaction, sources say, are two emails written by Ferguson police and municipal court officials.


One, written in November of 2008, said that Barack Obama could not be president for four years because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” 

Another, written in May 2011, read: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.’ 

The report will say that the DOJ investigation found that there was a pattern and practice of racial bias in Ferguson’s municipal courts, with African-Americans less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal judge, far more likely to have a warrant entered in their cases and more likely to be arrested during traffic stops because of outstanding warrants.

The investigation also found that from April to September last year, 95 percent of people held at the Ferguson jail longer than two days were African-American.

Blacks in Ferguson are also more likely than others to be charged with offenses like “manner of walking in roadway” or “failure to comply,” according to the report. 

The report will also say that Ferguson has a pattern of putting revenue over public safety, in violation of the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal process protections, by collecting thousands of dollars in fines on those living below or near poverty. 

In general, the DOJ report will say there is a wide gulf of mistrust between the Ferguson Police Department and major portions of the population, particularly black citizens.

Consequently, law enforcement is often seen as illegitimate or even absent, the department’s report will say.

DOJ investigators spent about 100 person-days looking into the department, perused 35,000 pages of records, and had interviews with city leaders as well as hundreds of in-person or telephone interviews with citizens.

Koran Addo of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.