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Press Release

Justice Department Files Lawsuit to Bring Constitutional Policing to Ferguson, Missouri

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced today that the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Ferguson, Missouri, alleging a pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.

“Today, the Department of Justice is filing a lawsuit against the city of Ferguson, Missouri, alleging a pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the Constitution and federal civil rights laws,” said Attorney General Lynch.  “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.  They have waited nearly a year for their police department to accept rules that would ensure their constitutional rights and that thousands of other police departments follow every day.  They have waited nearly a year for their municipal courts to commit to basic, reasonable rules and standards.  But residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights – the rights guaranteed to all Americans – for decades.  They have waited decades for justice.  They should not be forced to wait any longer.”

“Our investigation found that Ferguson’s policing and municipal court practices violate the Constitution, erode trust and undermine public safety,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  “As shown by our lawsuit today, the Justice Department will continue to vigorously enforce the law to ensure that Ferguson implements long-overdue reforms necessary to create constitutional, effective and accountable policing.  Ferguson residents and police officers deserve a law enforcement system that productively and fairly serves the entire community.”

The lawsuit, filed pursuant to Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), alleges that the city of Ferguson, through its police department and municipal court:

  • conducts stops, searches and arrests without legal justification, and uses excessive force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
  • interferes with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment;
  • prosecutes and resolves municipal charges in a manner that violates due process and equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment; and
  • engages in discriminatory law enforcement conduct against African Americans in violation of the 14th Amendment and federal statutory law.  

The lawsuit follows a comprehensive investigation of Ferguson’s police department and municipal court conducted by the Civil Rights Division.  In March 2015, the department detailed its investigative findings in a 104-page report.  The department found that Ferguson’s focus on generating revenue over public safety, together with racial bias, has a profound effect on Ferguson’s police and court practices, resulting in conduct that routinely violates the Constitution and federal civil rights laws. 

The complaint alleges that from October 2012 to October 2014, African Americans were more than twice as likely to be searched, to receive a citation or to be arrested, than other stopped individuals.  Of all incidents from 2010 to August 2014, African Americans account for 88 percent of all incidents in which a Ferguson police officer reported using force.  For municipal offenses where Ferguson police officers have a high degree of discretion in charging, African Americans were again disproportionately represented as compared to their relative representation in Ferguson.  While African Americans make up 67 percent of the Ferguson’s population, they make up 95 percent of manner of walking in roadway charges; 94 percent of failure to comply charges; 92 percent of resisting arrest charges; 92 percent of disturbing the peace charges; and 89 percent of failure to obey charges.  The department also found that Ferguson’s law enforcement conduct has created a lack of trust between the police department and the community members it serves, especially African Americans. 

On Feb. 9, the Ferguson City Council voted to reject the consent decree that the city’s negotiating team had negotiated.  Unable to reach a mutually agreed upon court-enforceable settlement to remedy the department's findings, the lawsuit was filed today in order to seek declaratory and injunctive relief to remedy the unlawful conduct identified by the department’s investigation. 

This matter was investigated by attorneys from the Civil Rights Division.


Updated August 10, 2016

Civil Rights
Press Release Number: 16-168