US clears officer in Ferguson case, criticizes police force

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DOJ: Former Officer Darren Wilson Will Not Be Charged In Ferguson Case

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department won't prosecute a former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black 18-year-old, but in a scathing report released Wednesday faulted the city and its law enforcement for racial bias and unconstitutional practices.

Federal officials concluded there was no evidence to disprove former officer Darren Wilson's testimony that he feared for his safety, nor were there reliable witness accounts to establish that Michael Brown had his hands up in surrender when he was shot.

But they also said the shooting occurred in an environment of systemic mistreatment of blacks, where officials traded racist emails and jokes and where minorities were disproportionately stopped and searched, fined for petty offenses and subjected to excessive police force.

"Now that our investigation has reached its conclusion, it is time for Ferguson's leaders to take immediate, wholesale and structural corrective action," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement announcing the findings.

The decision in the August 9 shooting had been expected, in part because of the high legal standard needed for a federal civil rights prosecution. Wilson, who has said Brown struck him in the face and reached for his gun during a tussle, also had been cleared by a Missouri grand jury in November and later resigned from the department.

The Brown family lawyer, Benjamin Crump, said the family was not surprised but very disappointed, and one of Brown's uncles, Charles Ewing, said he believed Wilson was "getting away with it."

"I really was hoping they would have come up with better findings because this whole thing just does not add up," he said. "Everything just doesn't make sense."

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US clears officer in Ferguson case, criticizes police force
Pictures taken of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson show him during a hospital visit shortly after fatally shooting Michael Brown. (St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office)
Pictures taken of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson show him during a hospital visit shortly after fatally shooting Michael Brown. (​St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office)
Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown November 29, 2014 in Brentwood, Missouri. Brown, a 18-year-old black male teenager was fatally wounded by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Missouri Police officer on August 9, 2014. A St. Louis County 12-member grand jury who reviewed evidence related to the shooting decided not to indict Wilson with charges sparking riots through out Ferguson. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
BRENTWOOD, MO - NOVEMBER 29: Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown November 29, 2014 in Brentwood, Missouri. Brown, a 18-year-old black male teenager was fatally wounded by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Missouri Police officer on August 9, 2014. A St. Louis County 12-member grand jury who reviewed evidence related to the shooting decided not to indict Wilson with charges sparking riots through out Ferguson. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson shown receiving a commendation earlier this year. (Ferguson PD)
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 28: A protestor holds a banner with the pictures of civilians died in police-involved cases during the continued demonstrations after the Grand Jury did not indict white Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black 18-year old Michael Brown on November 28, 2014 in downtown Los Angeles. 8 protestors were reportedly arrested during the demonstrations. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 28: Los Angeles police officers interfere in the continued demonstrations after the Grand Jury did not indict white Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black 18-year old Michael Brown on November 28, 2014 in downtown Los Angeles. 8 protestors were reportedly arrested after the intervention. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, US - NOVEMBER 28: Protestors shout slogans at West Country Center Mall near Ferguson on November 28,2014 during a rally against the Grand Jury's decision not to indict white Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black 18-year old Michael Brown. Demonstrators also call for a boycott of retailers during the Black Friday shopping weekend. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, US - NOVEMBER 28: Protestors hold banners and shout slogans at West Country Center Mall near Ferguson on November 28,2014 during a rally against the Grand Jury's decision not to indict white Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black 18-year old Michael Brown. Demonstrators also call for a boycott of retailers during the Black Friday shopping weekend. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 28: Police confront demonstrators outside the police station November 28, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The Ferguson area has been struggling to return to normal since the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Monday, when the grand jury announced that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting, rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 28: Police confront demonstrators outside the police station November 28, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The Ferguson area has been struggling to return to normal since the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Monday, when the grand jury announced that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting, rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, US - NOVEMBER 28: Protestors hold banners and shout slogans at West Country Center Mall near Ferguson on November 28,2014 during a rally against the Grand Jury's decision not to indict white Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black 18-year old Michael Brown. Demonstrators also call for a boycott of retailers during the Black Friday shopping weekend. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 28: Police confront demonstrators outside the police station November 28, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The Ferguson area has been struggling to return to normal since the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Monday, when the grand jury announced that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting, rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 28: Police arrest a demonstrator outside the police station November 28, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The Ferguson area has been struggling to return to normal since the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Monday, when the grand jury announced that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting, rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 28: Police and national guard tconfront demonstrators outside the police station November 28, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The Ferguson area has been struggling to return to normal since the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Monday, when the grand jury announced that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting, rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
BRENTWOOD, MO - NOVEMBER 29: A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown holds a sign November 29, 2014 in Brentwood, Missouri. Brown, a 18-year-old black male teenager was fatally wounded by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Missouri Police officer on August 9, 2014. A St. Louis County 12-member grand jury who reviewed evidence related to the shooting decided not to indict Wilson with charges sparking riots through out Ferguson. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
BRENTWOOD, MO - NOVEMBER 29: Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown November 29, 2014 in Brentwood, Missouri. Brown, a 18-year-old black male teenager was fatally wounded by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Missouri Police officer on August 9, 2014. A St. Louis County 12-member grand jury who reviewed evidence related to the shooting decided not to indict Wilson with charges sparking riots through out Ferguson. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
BRENTWOOD, MO - NOVEMBER 29: Police officers watch as demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown November 29, 2014 in Brentwood, Missouri. Brown, a 18-year-old black male teenager was fatally wounded by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Missouri Police officer on August 9, 2014. A St. Louis County 12-member grand jury who reviewed evidence related to the shooting decided not to indict Wilson with charges sparking riots through out Ferguson. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 28: A masked protestor is seen during the continued demonstrations after the Grand Jury did not indict white Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black 18-year old Michael Brown on November 28, 2014 in downtown Los Angeles. 8 protestors were reportedly arrested during the demonstrations. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 29: Hundreds of people shut down Georgetown Street during the protests against Ferguson Grand Jury's decision about white police officer Darren Wilson that he will not face with criminal charges for shooting death of 18-year old black teenager Michael Brown, on November 29, 2014 in Washington, United States. (Photo by Kasm Ileri/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28: Protestors march at Herald Square in NY on November 28,2014 during a rally against the Grand Jury's decision not to indict white Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of black 18-year old Michael Brown in Ferguson. Some protestors called for a boycott of retailers during the Black Friday shopping weekend. (Photo by Mustafa Caglayan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 28: Using the headlights of his truck artist Phil Berwick paints on a boarded over doorway of a commercial building near the police station November 28, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The Ferguson area has been struggling to return to normal since the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Monday, when the grand jury announced that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting, rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Pictures taken of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson show him during a hospital visit shortly after fatally shooting Michael Brown. (​St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office)
Pictures taken of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson show him during a hospital visit shortly after fatally shooting Michael Brown. (​St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office)
Pictures taken of Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson show him during a hospital visit shortly after fatally shooting Michael Brown. (​St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 28: Demonstrators protest outside the police station November 28, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The Ferguson area has been struggling to return to normal since the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Monday, when the grand jury announced that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting, rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 28: Police and national guard tconfront demonstrators outside the police station November 28, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The Ferguson area has been struggling to return to normal since the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, who was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Monday, when the grand jury announced that Wilson would not face charges in the shooting, rioting and looting broke out throughout the area leaving several businesses burned to the ground. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CLAYTON, MO - NOVEMBER 24: St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch announces the grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown on November 24, 2014, at the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Missouri. Ferguson has been struggling to return to normal after Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. His death has sparked months of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson. (Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte-Pool/Getty Images)
CLAYTON, MO - OCTOBER 10: Protestors call for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch to withdraw from the investigation surrounding the death 18-year-old Michael Brown who was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri police officer on October 9, 2014 in Clayton, Missouri. Brown's August 9 death sparked several days of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson. The shooting death of another 18-year-old, Vonderrit Myers Jr., by a St. Louis police officer on October 8 has sparked a new round of protests. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CLAYTON, MO - OCTOBER 10: Protestors call for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch to withdraw from the investigation surrounding the death 18-year-old Michael Brown who was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri police officer on October 9, 2014 in Clayton, Missouri. Brown's August 9 death sparked several days of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson. The shooting death of another 18-year-old, Vonderrit Myers Jr., by a St. Louis police officer on October 8 has sparked a new round of protests. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CLAYTON, MO - OCTOBER 10: Protestors call for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch to withdraw from the investigation surrounding the death 18-year-old Michael Brown who was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri police officer on October 9, 2014 in Clayton, Missouri. Brown's August 9 death sparked several days of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson. The shooting death of another 18-year-old, Vonderrit Myers Jr., by a St. Louis police officer on October 8 has sparked a new round of protests. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Police and Missouri National Guardsmen stand guard as protesters gather in front of Ferguson Police Department on Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Several protesters have been taken into custody during a demonstration outside the police department. Tensions escalated late Friday during an initially calm demonstration after police said protesters were illegally blocking West Florissant Avenue. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Snow falls as Missouri National Guard stand outside of the Ferguson Police Department Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer , Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of Michael Brown has sparked protests nationwide, triggering debates over the relations between black communities and law enforcement. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
FILE- In this Nov. 25, 2014 photo, demonstrators hold up their hands during a protest in Philadelphia, the day after a grand jury's decision not to indict a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer who killed 18-year-old black Michael Brown. ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ has become a rallying cry despite questions whether Michael Brown’s hands were raised in surrender before being fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
A demonstrator waves to customers inside a store that closed during a protest inside Chesterfield Mall, Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, in Chesterfield, Mo. The protesters disrupted holiday shopping at several locations on Friday amid a protest triggered by a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Emerald Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, right, Esaw Garner, Eric Garner's wife, second from right, Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, center, and Kimberly Michelle Ballinger, the domestic partner of Akai Gurley, second from left, join Al Sharpton in a prayer during a news conference at the National Action Network headquarters in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014. On the day before Thanksgiving, Sharpton brought together the families of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Akai Gurley, all black men recently killed by police officers. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
The parents of Michael Brown, Lesley McSpadden, left, and Michael Brown, Sr., right, speak to The Associated Press during an interview in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. Michael Brown's parents say they are unmoved by the Ferguson police chief's apology in their son's shooting death by a police officer. Instead, Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. told The Associated Press they would rather see an arrest, and Brown Sr. said he wants the police officer "in handcuffs." (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 24: Lesley McSpadden (L), mother of Michael Brown, reacts to the decision by the Grand Jury not to indict Officer Daren Wilson in the shooting death of her son, in Ferguson, Missouri on November 24, 2014. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A Missouri National Guardsman stands in front of Ferguson City Hall on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision not to indict a Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of Michael Brown has sparked protests nationwide, triggering debates over the relations between black communities and law enforcement. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A National Guardsman watches as protesters march Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer , Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown has sparked protests nationwide. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Protesters gather near the Ferguson Police Department on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision not to indict a Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of Michael Brown has sparked protests nationwide, triggering debates over the relations between black communities and law enforcement. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Protesters march down the streets near Ferguson Police Department Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. A grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer , Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of Michael Brown has sparked protests nationwide, triggering debates over the relations between black communities and law enforcement. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The findings of the investigation into the police department, which began weeks after Brown's killing last August, were released as Holder prepares to leave his job following a six-year tenure that focused largely on civil rights. The report is based on interviews with police leaders and residents, a review of more than 35,000 pages of police records and analysis of data on stops, searches and arrests.

The report includes more than two dozen recommendations to improve the closely aligned police department and court system, including training officers to de-escalate confrontations and better oversight of its recruiting, hiring and promotion procedures.

Federal officials on Wednesday described Ferguson city leaders as cooperative and open to change, and said there were already signs of improvement.

Similarly broad federal civil rights investigations of troubled police departments have led to the appointment of independent monitors and mandated overhauls in the most fundamental of police practices. The Justice Department maintains the right to sue a police department if officials balk at making changes, though many investigations resolve the issue with both sides negotiating a blueprint for change known as a consent decree.

"It's quite evident that change is coming down the pike. This is encouraging," said John Gaskin III, a St. Louis community activist. "It's so unfortunate that Michael Brown had to be killed. But in spite of that, I feel justice is coming."

Brown's killing set off weeks of protests and initiated a national dialogue about police use of force and their relations with minority communities.

But to charge Wilson with a federal civil rights violation, the Justice Department would have had to have shown that the officer willfully violated Brown's civil rights by using unreasonable force. That standard is a high threshold and has historically granted deference to police officers who act in split-second decisions.

Federal officials said witness accounts that Brown was running away as he was shot were disproven by physical evidence. Under the law, they said, Wilson could reasonably argue that he was justified in shooting Brown as Brown continued to advance toward him and refuse commands to stop.

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