US Justice Department sues Ferguson, Missouri over police reform

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Ferguson City Council Amends Justice Department Agreement


FERGUSON, Mo./WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday to enforce a police and court reform plan after the city said it wanted to amend some aspects of a consent decree it had reached with the federal agency.

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The Justice Department initiated a civil rights investigation into Ferguson's policing after an unarmed black teenager was killed by a white police officer in 2014. It resulted in a report that was extremely critical of Ferguson's police and court systems.

"The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for their city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at a news conference.

She said the agreement that was decided upon had been painstakingly negotiated and Ferguson officials knew that rejecting it would invite litigation.

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US Justice Department sues Ferguson, Missouri over police reform
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 25: A police squad car is turned over by demonstrators during a protest on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Yesterday protesting turned into rioting following the grand jury announcement to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. At least 12 buildings were torched and more than 50 people were arrested during the night-long rioting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 11: Police force protestors from the business district into nearby neighborhoods on August 11, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets as residents and their supporters protested the shooting by police of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown who was killed Saturday in this suburban St. Louis community. Yesterday 32 arrests were made after protests turned into rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 16: Police stand guard before the mandatory midnight curfew on August 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. The curfew was imposed on Saturday in an attempt to reign in the violence that has erupted nearly every night in the suburban St. Louis town since the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest against the August 9 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by holding their hands up while gathered on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri late on August 16, 2014. A crowd of some 200 demonstrators defied a curfew that came into effect in Ferguson early on August 17, days after police shot dead the unarmed black teen, triggering a wave of rioting. AFP PHOTO / Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 12: A demonstrator protesting the killings of 18-year-olds Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri Police officer and Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off duty St. Louis police officer gets help after being maced by police on October 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted in suburban Ferguson following Brown's death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 15: Demonstrators gather along West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting of Michael Brown on August 15, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Protestors raise their hands and chant 'Hands up, don't shoot' as a rally cry to draw attention to reports that stated Brown's hands were raised when he was shot. Tonight demonstration again ended with protestors clashing with police followed by more looting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Guests raise their hands as they wait in line to enter the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church for the funeral of Michael Brown on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 25: Michael Brown Sr. yells out as the casket is lowered into the ground during the funeral for his son Michael Brown at St. Peters Cemetery on August 25, 2014 in St. Louis Missouri. Michael Brown, an 18 year-old unarmed teenager, was shot and killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the nearby town of Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. His death caused several days of violent protests along with rioting and looting in Ferguson. (Photo by Richard Perry-Pool/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 24: Michael Brown Sr. (L) and Civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton (2nd from left) hold up their hands as attorny Benjamin Crump (R) speaks at Peace Fest music festival in Forest Park on August 24, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Brown is the father of Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. Michael will be buried tomorrow. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 01: Students stage a 'die in' at Washington University to draw attention to police abuse on December 1, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. The 'die in' was part a nationwide protest calling for workers to walk off their jobs and students to walk out of their classes to call attention to the perceived miscarriage of justice sparked by the August 9th death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. When the grand jury announced on November 24, 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 24: People leave a liquor store with items after protestors rioted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, 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. A grand jury today declined to indict officer Wilson. (Photo by Eric Thayer for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 13: Demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, is experiencing its fourth day of violent protests since the killing. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 16: Business owner Mustafa Alshalabi cleans damage to his store, Sam's Meat Market, after it was looted during another night of rioting following protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 16, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Alshalabi is carrying a firearm on his side in order to protect his property. Looters ransacked several businesses for several hours as police held a position nearby with military grade weapons and armored personnel carriers (APC). Violent outbreaks have taken place almost nightly in Ferguson since the shooting death of Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 24: Hundreds of demonstrators, many of them Howard University students, march down the middle of U Street Northwest after a grand jury did not intict the white police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in Missouri November 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown that sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: People protest in Times Square over the Ferguson grand jury decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown case November 25, 2014 in New York City. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, MO police officer, on August 9. Violent protests erupted across the nation yesterday after the grand jury's verdict was announced, most notably in Ferguson, MO, where more than 25 buildings were burned down and stores were looted. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 24: A protestor stands in front of police vehicles with his hands up during a demonstration on November 24, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. A St. Louis County grand jury has decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown that sparked riots in Ferguson, Missouri in August. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 13: Demonstrators listen to speakers during a rally on the campus of Saint Louis University on October 13, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted following the August 9, killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in suburban Ferguson. Another teenager, Vonderrit Myers Jr., Was killed by a St. Louis police officer on October 8. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)g (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 12: Demonstrators protesting the killings of 18-year-olds Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri Police officer and Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off duty St. Louis police officer are confronted by police wearing riot gear on October 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted in suburban Ferguson following Brown's death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - OCTOBER 13: Demonstrators confront police outside the Ferguson police station on October 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Ferguson has been struggling to heal since riots erupted following the August 9, killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a police officer in suburban Ferguson. Another teenager, Vonderrit Myers Jr., was killed by a St. Louis police officer on October 8. Several demonstrators and members of the clergy were arrested at the protest after a show of civil disobedience. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 25: A Ferguson firefighter surveys rubble at a strip mall that was set on fire when rioting erupted following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown case on November 25, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer, on August 9. At least 12 buildings were torched and more than 50 people were arrested during the night-long rioting. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 12: Plywood covers the glass front of a strip mall along West Florissant Street on November 12, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Many businesses along West Florissant are boarded-up as residents prepare for the grand jury decision in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Many of the stores along the street were looted and vandalized during rioting which broke out after Brown was killed by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer. The city is hoping to avoid a repeat of those riots if the grand jury investigating the shooting does not find justification to prosecute Wilson. The grand jury's decision is expected sometime in November. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DELLWOOD, MO - NOVEMBER 25: A sign sits amidst rubble at a building that was damaged during a demonstration on November 25, 2014 in Dellwood, Missouri. Demonstrators caused extensive damage in Ferguson and surrounding areas last night after a St. Louis County grand jury decided to not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 09: Demonstrators march through the streets protesting the October 8 killing of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off duty St. Louis police officer on October 9, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis area has been struggling to heal since riots erupted in suburban Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - NOVEMBER 26: Police stand guard as protests engulf Ferguson on November 26, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Over 2,000 Missouri national guardsmen are being deployed a day after demonstrators caused extensive damage in Ferguson and surrounding areas following a St. Louis County grand jury decision to not indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
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Earlier on Wednesday, Ferguson officials said they wanted to negotiate further with the Justice Department over police reforms, after voting on Tuesday to amend the agreement.

Mayor James Knowles told a news conference that reforms had to be affordable and attainable. "It serves no one's purpose for us to fail," he said.

Ferguson's city council voted on Tuesday to accept the reform agreement, called a consent decree, subject to conditions, including that it not be required to increase police officers' pay and police staffing levels. It also said it wanted more time to comply with the other terms.

The city became a symbol of problems with policing and race in the United States after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in August 2014.

It was one of several killings of black men, mostly by white officers, that started a nationwide debate about the use of excessive force by police, especially against minorities.

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Knowles said that only in the last two weeks had the city been able to analyze the costs of implementing the decree.

He and city council members said Ferguson had already made some reforms, including community policing and a civilian review board to oversee police.

Civil rights advocates warned that litigation with the Justice Department could cost more than implementing the agreement.

"This decision only creates the potential for the type of litigation that creates more financial challenges that will be a burden on poor people," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a national civil rights organization.

(Reporting by Sue Britt and Julia Edwards; Additional reporting by Ben Klayman; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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