FERGUSON, Mo. — Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are still poring over old municipal court cases trying to determine which should be dismissed as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to reform police and court practices, residents were told Wednesday.
About 90 people showed up for the Justice Department’s update on a consent agreement with the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown died in a 2014 police shooting that was a catalyst for the national Black Lives Matter movement.
Several residents questioned the progress being made toward handling the backlog of municipal court cases. They urged officials to speed up the review.
“People’s lives are getting caught up by a simple case of running a stop sign,” Alicia Street, 32, said.
Ferguson officials are looking at pre-2014 cases. They said they don’t know how long the review of cases will take.
City Manager De’Carlon Seewood said more than 10,000 old cases are still being reviewed by the city prosecutor with plans to dismiss charges for minor infractions such as traffic violations.
Justice Department attorney Jude Volek said 32,000 cases have previously been dismissed. Many were for failure to appear in court — a citation often criticized as one that helps the city of about 20,000 residents generate revenue largely on the backs of poor and minority residents.
“We recognize some of the urgency to get through these cases,” another Justice Department attorney, Sharon Brett, said. “We understand what’s at stake here.”
The meeting was held at the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center, which opened over the summer on property where a QuikTrip convenience store was burned during rioting after Brown’s death. QuikTrip demolished the building and donated the site to the Urban League, which now runs a job training and placement service there.
Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old, was fatally shot by a white Ferguson officer, Darren Wilson, on Aug. 9, 2014. The shooting led to months of protests that sometimes turned violent. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson, and the Justice Department opted against civil rights charges. Wilson resigned in November 2014.
The protests prompted the Justice Department to scrutinize Ferguson, uncovering troubling instances of racial bias in its court system and law enforcement. The Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit that was settled last year in the consent agreement overseen by a federal judge.
In the more than three years since the shooting, Ferguson — where about two-thirds of the residents are black — has replaced its white city manager, police chief and municipal judge with black men. The police force remains largely white, though, partly because Ferguson still struggles to attract qualified minority applicants. Authorities have said that stems from other departments offering better pay.
Brett, the Justice Department attorney, said the emphasis now is on developing policies in three areas: recruitment, use of police cameras and use of force.
“We’re really excited about the progress that’s being made, mindful of a lot of work that’s still left to be done,” said Volek, the other Justice Department attorney.
Ferguson’s agreement with the Justice Department requires hiring more minority officers, diversity training for officers, developing a community policing model and other changes. The whole process is expected to take years and cost about $2.3 million.