Officer Cleared, City Indicted

In two sweeping reports, the Justice Department cleared former officer Darren Wilson, but lambasted Ferguson's police department for discriminatory practices.

Updated on March 5, 2015

Almost seven months after Michael Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, the Justice Department cleared Wilson of civil-rights violations in a report released on Wednesday. But the tenor of the report— along with a separate 105-page report that excoriated the Ferguson Police Department for "racial bias"—was hardly tame.

“There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety,” the report read, in a cutting use of negative space. It also concluded that there were no "prosecutable violations" by Wilson and that witness accounts of Brown surrendering with his hands up, a gesture that became the inspiration for the protests that followed his death, "are inconsistent with the physical evidence."

The more incendiary details came from the investigation into Ferguson's police department and its municipal court, the practices of which "both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes," the report read. "Ferguson's own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities."

In a statement accompanying the release of the report, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder offered that the “investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them." The investigation details several incidents that illustrate these violations; here's one representative example:

The investigation also emphasized a calculated "emphasis on revenue generation" by the police and courts in Ferguson, including alleged competitions among officers to issue the most citations in one encounter. Quartz details "increases in fine revenue of more 30 percent year over year," showing fine revenue nearly tripling in just ten years.

But what was systemic in public, according to the report, was buttressed by some appalling particulars in private. Over at The Washington Post, Mark Berman highlighted the seven emails flagged by the Justice Department's report, which were sent by "several police officers, court supervisors and commanders" (the Ferguson Police Department has since reprimanded three officers). Here are the report's summaries of a few of the emails:

November 2008: An email said President Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

May 2011: An email said: “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.’”

June 2011: An email described a man seeking to obtain “welfare” for his dogs because they are “mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no frigging clue who their Daddies are.”