Ferguson, Missouri, averted further legal woes Tuesday by unanimously agreeing to accept a U.S. Justice Department overhaul of its troubled police force and municipal courts.
The DOJ, alleging a pattern and practice of unconstitutional police conduct, sued the city last month after the City Council voted to change the terms of a deal negotiators had been hashing out for months.
In a statement, Vanita Gupta, head of the agency’s Civil Rights Division, called the city council vote “an important step towards guaranteeing all of its citizens the protections of our Constitution.”
Negotiations over reforms to the city’s police force and municipal court system began after a Justice Department investigation last year found the Ferguson Police Department had discriminated against African-Americans, targeting them disproportionately for traffic stops, use of force and jail sentences.
“Our No. 1 goal is to not only move the city but the entire region forward,” Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement. “We have heard the concerns of the community and we’re looking forward to working with our citizens.”
The national spotlight on Ferguson began after the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in August 2014. Brown, who was unarmed, was black, and Wilson is white. Brown’s death prompted days of protests and riots in Ferguson and a national conversation about the role of race in police interactions with citizens.
“This is an opportunity to show the entire world that we can and will work together,” Councilman Wesley Bell said in a statement.
In a 6-0 vote, the council voted in favor of a bill authorizing the Justice Department consent decree.
City officials last month insisted that their vote wasn’t a rejection of the Justice Department consent decree but rather a push to return to the table because of concerns over the cost of some terms.
At the time, council members expressed reservations about having to pay additional salary to police or other city employees, among other things.
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SOURCE: CNN, Ray Sanchez