A few months ago, the Department of Justice put out a seminal report about the Ferguson Police Department and municipal court system that quickly led to the resignation of several public officials. The shocking report, which detailed systemic abuses within the city’s criminal justice system, has been so revered that last week, the New Press started offering it as a paperback printed edition.
Now, the DOJ is planning to release a separate report, and this time around it will squarely place much of the blame for last year's unrest on the actions of the police departments of Ferguson, St. Louis County, St. Louis, and the Missouri Highway Patrol, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper obtained an early summary of the nearly 200-page report, which will be released later this week.
The unrest following the shooting death of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson was exacerbated by long-standing community animosity toward Ferguson police, and by a failure of commanders to provide more details to the public, reports the paper.
“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,” states the document.
It goes on to point out that police broke with standard policing procedures while covering the unrest, notably by allowing officers to remove their name tags from their uniforms. This “defeated an essential level of on-scene accountability that is fundamental to the perception of procedural justice and legitimacy," the paper reports.
The police response to the unrest, marked in the public consciousness by striking images of police aiming assault weapons at protesters, has widely been criticized as being overly militaristic and counter-productive. Public outcry over the handling of the situation started a chain reaction which led to the Obama administration issuing a ban on the military transferring certain equipment to local police departments last month. (Although as a Pentagon official told Fusion, the ban will have minimal impact on departments like Ferguson and St. Louis County.)
One issue in the police response which does not seem to be touched upon by the report: federal officials agreed to a request from the Ferguson Police Department to issue a "no-fly zone" for aircraft for about 37 miles around Ferguson during protests in August. While officials originally claimed that the no-fly zone was recommended out of safety concerns following reports of shots being fired at police helicopters, audio tapes later obtained by the Associated Press revealed that it was meant to prevent news helicopters from flying overhead, in an effort to further restrict information about what was going on in the city.
[A] manager at the [Federal Aviation Administration's] center in Kansas City, Mo., said the police “did not care if you ran commercial traffic through this [temporary flight restriction] all day long. They didn’t want media in there.”
The manager said there was “no option for a [temporary flight restriction] that says, you know, ‘OK, everybody but the media is OK.’” The managers then developed wording that they felt would keep news helicopters out of the controlled zone but not impede other air traffic.
Ferguson officials and the FAA defended the exchange, claiming that they were erring on the side of safety. But even at the time, an FAA official on the tapes said that reports of people shooting at helicopters were unconfirmed "rumors."
This week's full report will contain about 45 "findings" about the response to last year's protesting, with recommendations on how police can improve on every case, reports the Post-Dispatch.
St. Louis Chief Sam Dotson, St. Louis County Chief Jon Belmar, Missouri Highway Patrol Superintendent J. Bret Johnson and Ferguson Interim Chief Al Eickhoff have so far declined to comment on the upcoming report.
“I don’t know if I agree with them or not, because I don’t have enough information,” Dotson told the Post-Dispatch.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.