Justice Department: Ferguson Response To Protesters Violated Free Speech, Use Of Dogs Incited Fear
Nearly a year after Ferguson, Mo. teenager Michael Brown Jr. was fatally shot by former police officer Darren Wilson, the Justice Department is confirming that police response to the traumatized community antagonized crowds, incited fear, and violated free speech.
While Brown’s death sparked protests nationwide, demonstrations in Ferguson were often the ones that ended with police releasing tear gas on peaceful crowds, unlawful arrests, and in some cases, the show of police dogs that no doubt stirred up painful memories of Civil Rights era America. But a new Justice Department document obtained by the St. Louis Dispatch is condemning those tactics and suggesting that some of those actions, like using police dogs, be banned.
“Vague and arbitrary” orders to keep protesters moving “violated citizens’ right to assembly and free speech, as determined by a U.S. federal court injunction,” according to a summary of a longer report scheduled for delivery this week to police brass in Ferguson, St. Louis County, St. Louis and Missouri Highway Patrol.
The summary also suggests that had officers released information about Brown’s death sooner, the community would trust the department to do a thorough investigation. The unrest, the report states, was likely sparked by “long-standing community animosity toward Ferguson police,” the Dispatch writes.
“Had law enforcement released information on the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner and continued the information flow as it became available, community distrust and media skepticism would most likely have been lessened,” according to the document.
It also says that use of dogs for crowd control incited fear and anger, and the practice ought to be prohibited. And it complains that tear gas was sometimes used without warning and on people in areas from which there was no safe retreat.
Moreover, it finds inconsistencies in the way police used force and made arrests. “The four core agencies dedicated officer training on operational and tactical skills without appropriate balance of de-escalation and problem-solving training,” it reads.
The full report — the third of four released by the DOJ after Ferguson’s season of unrest — will also include 45 findings with recommendations, the Dispatch notes. The first report stated that Wilson was justified in shooting Brown, while the other damning report highlighted the racist practices of the Ferguson police department.
According to the Dispatch, the fourth report is expected in July. In a statement to the newspaper, Ferguson officials said they are “reviewing these latest findings and will act accordingly.”
SOURCE: St. Louis Dispatch | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty