A letter to Ferguson from attorney Chuck James
Ladies and Gentlemen:
You may know that I no longer live in Ferguson, but I own or have an ownership interest in two parcels of real estate and have a strong personal interest in the City where I grew up and lived for over 50 years.
I have been following the news reports relating to the proposed Settlement Agreement with the Department of Justice with much interest. I have read the Agreement and can only imagine the expense that will be involved in complying with its terms.
There are many items in the Agreement that the City can, should and is doing to “reform” the Police Department and Municipal Court. At the same time, there are many provisions in the proposed settlement that are over the top, and unnecessary in my opinion, to transform our Police Department and Municipal Court into one that we can all be proud of and that protects the legitimate interests of the citizenry against civil rights abuses.
Having said that, I realize that you have been negotiating with the DOJ for many months now and have reached the point where it is “take it or leave it”. And the DOJ seems indifferent to the costs involved and whether the City can afford them. I wonder if they have considered the fact that the costs involved will be born by the very citizenry they claim to be protecting? The City’s revenue is, after all, derived for the most part from the citizens and businesses located within its boundaries.
Bankrupting the City for the purpose of “protecting its citizens” makes no sense to me at all —regardless of the terms of any Agreement, Settlement or Judgment. How does that achieve justice for anyone?? And isn’t it justice that the government is looking for?? Isn’t that what the City is looking for??
In any event, let me cut to the chase.
I don’t seriously believe that a Federal Judge will impose a Judgment against the City that is as onerous and expensive as the Settlement Agreement that has been proposed. I would look at the proposed Settlement Agreement as the worst that could reasonably be imposed upon the City in Court. After all, in the end, the City could argue that the proposed Settlement Agreement was what the DOJ wanted.
I recommend that the City reject the proposed Agreement and fight for a better outcome in court. Remember, victory in litigation does not require that the Court find in favor of the City and against the DOJ on all counts. Victory for the City could be a settlement or judgment that does not have the effect of bankrupting the City … that includes all of the policies that are necessary to protect all citizens, while not putting the City’s police officers in any more danger than the are presently.
I have no doubt that litigation will be expensive. It could cost millions, depending upon the defense strategy. But I believe that supporters of the City would be willing to help cover the cost if an effective campaign were mounted.
I realize that the politics surrounding the decision you are faced with are complicated and passionate. I urge you to set politics aside and consider only the bottom line realities of the situation. If you approve and sign the Settlement Agreement, you are stuck with the financial consequences. No chance to renegotiate the deal.
If you reject the agreement, you will have much more time to consider the ramifications of what has been proposed and find out if the voters will approve the tax increases you have on the April ballot. You will also have time weigh the feasibility of raising money from private sources to help pay litigation expenses.
If after taking the time necessary to study all of the alternatives you determine that the proposed Settlement Agreement will work, you can always offer to accept it in the course of litigation, and the DOJ would likely accept it. No guarantees about that, but I doubt that the DOJ will insist on continuing the litigation to obtain a settlement that is significantly more onerous as the one on the table.
Do not be bullied by the DOJ. Stand your ground. Do not let the costs of this fall on the backs of the people you are supposed to be protecting. Push for something better.
Hope you are all doing well. I know how difficult this is for you.
Mr. Charles A. James
DOJ Refuses Transparency Yet Again
One of the most troubling parts of the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson was the section on the use of police canines. When we talked with the Ferguson Police Department, they were baffled by what the DOJ could have seen as unconstitutional. They said the FPD canines were not deployed during the protests and hardly even get used in apprehension; they pointed out that in the small handful of cases where canines did apprehend suspects virtually every suspect was charged with a felony.
In response, we filed a freedom of information act request with the Department of Justice, for information on the police canine cases they cited. We recently received their response: they will not provide us anything until the law enforcement proceeding is complete. (Download HERE) They suggested we were asking for their work papers and possible trial strategy. We will appeal and point out that we were not asking for work papers or strategy, just the police canine cases noted in the report.
As residents of Ferguson, we have found the Department of Justice to be extremely frustrating to deal with. After releasing a scathing, but very general report on their accusations, the DOJ then refused to release any of the backup information on the report.
Why? Wouldn’t releasing the terrible details that were hinted at in the report put additional pressure on Ferguson to settle? Wouldn’t public displeasure help force Ferguson to change its ways? Why won’t the DOJ provide backup to its accusations? What does the DOJ have to hide?
Unfortunately, it seems more and more likely that what they are hiding is that they don’t have a case. That in response to a very heated political situation they pieced together a narrative using bits and pieces of information out of context and manipulated statistical data to build a narrative of Ferguson as a bad place. But now the DOJ can’t let anyone know just how weak its case it, and so it is trying to keep everything hidden while it tries to force the city of Ferguson into a settlement.
Again, the frustration of dealing with the DOJ. Ferguson is being pressured into signing a settlement, without ever getting to see what the DOJ thinks it actually did wrong. How can this be justice?
Brian Fletcher will be greatly missed in Ferguson - he was a wonderful man who cared very deeply about his city. Ferguson Truth has formally requested that the City Council appoint someone to fill his seat that has the same positive love of Ferguson. A copy of the letter may be downloaded HERE and is displayed below.
Tom Claffy, a longtime Ferguson resident and member of Ferguson Truth, recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to the City of Ferguson. Ferguson’s response seems to suggest, yet again, that the Department of Justice didn’t actually conduct a thorough analysis of the actions of the Ferguson Police Department. This, more than anything else, is why we want the City of Ferguson to release the proposed DOJ settlement before the City Council votes to accept it – we want to be sure that the proposed settlement improves Ferguson and doesn’t unjustly penalize Ferguson to satisfy the DOJ’s political needs.
One of the most troubling aspects of the original DOJ report was the description of the use police dogs, which the DOJ suggested was “evidence of discriminatory policing”. Tom submitted requests to the Ferguson Police Department and the DOJ for information on the cases cited in the DOJ report. The DOJ still hasn’t responded, but below is part of the City of Ferguson’s response (Click HERE for the full letter):
"Please note that the representatives of the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ did not provide us with the report numbers, names or other identifying information that those representatives used in their analysis regarding the use of canines by the Ferguson Police Department."
So basically, the DOJ didn’t tell the City which cases it referenced, or ask the Ferguson Police Department for any additional information on the files it reviewed. It seems as if the DOJ didn’t ask to talk to the officers involved, or the Supervisors on duty at the time. The DOJ notes that it talked to one child that had been bitten several years ago, but not much more. The DOJ notes “In every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African American.” (emphasis added). How is it possible that racial information was not available? Did the DOJ not do even the small bit of research necessary to identify the race of the person being bitten? Even the language about the severity of the bites is unclear. In one example from four years ago, the DOJ specifically notes that the bite resulted in puncture wounds. In another example, the DOJ report seems to suggest that the dog dragged a teen out of a closet by the teen’s pants leg. According to the DOJ report, there were fourteen examples over a four and a half year period – how hard would it have been to research each of these?
What it has felt like from the start is that the DOJ wasn’t really interested in doing an in depth analysis of sleepy little diverse Ferguson, one of the most integrated cities in the St. Louis region. Instead, it was addressing a political situation – the Darren Wilson report was sure to infuriate the social justice community, and so the report on general practices of the Ferguson Police Department would have to justify the explosion of anger – “Darren Wilson’s actions weren’t racist, but the police department is”.
But in reality, this isn’t true – the Ferguson Police Department isn’t racist – it’s not out hunting African Americans to fatten the city coffers. The DOJ report wove together a series of anecdotes and bits of information taken out of context to build its narrative, but every time we start digging down, their narrative falls apart – the DOJ has purposely distorted information or provided it without necessary context. The disproportionate ticketing of African Americans? The DOJ took information Ferguson publicly reports then changed how disparity was calculated to make Ferguson seem worse. The suggestion that Ferguson specifically targeted African Americans to double its traffic fines revenue? Almost all of the increase in traffic fines was related to the use of red light cameras.
The examples go on and on. The DOJ didn’t perform an analysis of the Ferguson Police Department, but instead prepared a simplistic, distorted report to satisfy a political audience. We have heard multiple times from many reliable sources that the Ferguson report was rewritten multiple times until it was “scathing” enough to meet the DOJ’s agenda. The residents of Ferguson want to make our city better. We support reforms of the municipal court system and increasing community policing, but we don’t want to be a “sacrifice” for the social justice community. This is why it is so important for the City of Ferguson to release the proposed settlement before signing. And why, maybe, the best answer is to not settle but instead to force the DOJ to present, in a court of law, what it actually found. No justice, no peace? No truth, no justice.
Help Ferguson Get the Truth Out
Beginning with Eric Holder announcing the Department of Justice’s “searing” report, the DOJ has selectively collected and presented information to paint Ferguson as racist and abusive. Ferguson Truth was formed to push for transparency and truth from the Department of Justice, to counteract this distorted narrative that the DOJ created.