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State Court Takes Over City Cases in Ferguson, Missouri

  • VOA News

FILE - A protester walks in the street with his hands up after the grand jury verdict in the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 26, 2014.

FILE - A protester walks in the street with his hands up after the grand jury verdict in the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, Nov. 26, 2014.

A state judge will take over municipal court cases in the troubled midwestern U.S. city of Ferguson, Missouri.

The announcement by the Missouri Supreme Court late Monday comes days after the U.S. Department of Justice sharply criticized courts in the St. Louis suburb for acting largely as a municipal fund-raising operation that disproportionately fined and jailed black citizens.

Ronald Brockmeyer, the current municipal judge, resigned his post immediately. State Appeals Court Judge Roy Richter will hear the Ferguson cases.

“Judge Richter will bring a fresh, disinterested perspective to this court’s practices, and he is able and willing to implement needed reforms,” Chief Justice Mary Russell of the State Supreme Court said.

The federal report released last week was the result of a six-month investigation launched after last year's shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer during a street confrontation.

Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference Wednesday that Ferguson used law enforcement as a way to generate revenue for the city government, with arrests and fines for minor offenses, and not as a means to provide public safety. He said the city's strategy disproportionately harmed its black residents and played a key role in triggering last year's violent protests after Brown's death.

"Of course, violence is never justified," Holder said. "But seen in this context - amid a highly toxic environment, defined by mistrust and resentment, stoked by years of bad feelings, and spurred by illegal and misguided practices - it's not difficult to imagine how a single tragic incident set off the city of Ferguson like a powder keg."

After conducting hundreds of interviews and reviewing more than 35,000 pages of police records and other documents, the Justice Department found that while blacks comprised 67 percent of Ferguson's population, 93 percent of the arrests were of African Americans. The report says that 85 percent of all routine traffic stops were of black drivers and 90 percent of all traffic citations issued.

Brown's case, coupled with other high-profile incidents, including the police chokehold death of a black man in New York, led to a widespread outcry over aggressive police tactics against African Americans and other minorities.

The Justice Department has launched 20 civil rights investigations of local police departments during outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder's time in office, including the probe of the Ferguson department.

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