Justice Dept. chides Ferguson cops for militarized tactics against Michael Brown protesters
Police responding to race-related protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer made a series of missteps, including antagonizing crowds with attack dogs and military-style tactics, according to a U.S. Justice Department report.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, is a draft summary of a document the department plans to release in the coming weeks evaluating law enforcement actions. A Justice Department representative said the “after-action assessment … will convey the findings and lessons learned.”
The report focuses on the tactics of police from Ferguson, St. Louis, St. Louis County and the Missouri Highway Patrol. All four agencies tried to quell the protests and riots that broke out after a white Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, on Aug. 9, 2014.
A county grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing 18-year-old Brown, and the Justice Department said no charges would be brought. But Brown’s death set off months of protests about police treatment of minorities that expanded to cities around the country.
Justice Department and police officials are scheduled to meet on Thursday, according to the St. Louis Police Department.
“We are always willing to engage in constructive dialogue about best practices,” the St. Louis department said in a statement. “We are interested in the final report to identify what we did well and what we may need to improve upon.”
The Justice Department draft report, which covers actions over the 17 days following the shooting, found that police lacked effective protocols, were not adequately trained, struggled with communication and coordination, and made mistakes that sometimes heightened tensions.
The use of dogs for crowd control during the Ferguson protests incited fear and anger in the crowd, according to the report, while the use of teargas on people without warning was also a problem.
In addition, police were inconsistent in using force and making arrests, and some officers removed their nameplates to evade accountability for their actions, the Justice Department said.
The report also criticized police for positioning snipers atop armored vehicles to monitor the crowd through rifle sights, saying the tactic “served only to exacerbate tensions.”
It found that law enforcement agencies set a negative tone with the media by initially offering limited public information about Brown’s shooting. The report also said police inhibited protesters constitutional right to free speech.
In all, the report lists 45 findings along with recommendations for improvements.
It follows a separate scathing report by the Justice Department issued earlier this year that documented discriminatory actions by Ferguson police and the small community’s municipal court system, which led to upheaval in the city’s leadership.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles declined to comment, other than to acknowledge city officials received the draft of the report.
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in a statement that the department was working with federal officials to ensure the accuracy of the report.
There was no comment from the highway patrol.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech)