The Justice Department is expected to release a report outlining findings that allege a pattern of discriminatory tactics used by the Ferguson police, according to CNN. If the police department refuses to review and change these strategies, the department could force change by suing.
Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce the results of an investigation into the August shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown and a broader probe of the Ferguson Police Department before he leaves office in upcoming weeks.
Ted Shaw, a UNC law professor, said the Justice Department has sued cities for police misconduct in the past — bringing action against law enforcement officials who have acted in ways that discriminate against individuals.
“It does not happen often, but they have done investigations on shootings where race was the issue,” he said.
Shaw said it is difficult to say if the potential lawsuit would have a significant impact on decreasing tensions between police and minorities.
“It ultimately depends on if the Justice Department brings in action against the police department — if it is litigated and Ferguson makes changes, they are bound by them. If Ferguson is incalcitrant and wants to get out from underneath the thumb of federal supervision in this area, then it might not make a difference,” he said.
Frank Baumgartner, a UNC political science professor, said federal officials would have to be able to prove racial discrimination beyond reasonable doubt and find substantial evidence in institutional practice — written in the department’s rules and norms and in the training of the officers.
“Typically what we find is that there might be statistical disparities, but whether it is deliberate is the question,” Baumgartner said.
He said cities usually reach an agreement and settle. If the Justice Department does file a lawsuit, it’ll be time consuming and bad publicity.
“If they don’t sue, Ferguson is under a lot of pressure to clean up its act or to change things — I imagine they have already started to change things,” Baumgartner said.
He said the federal government would not sue unless officials thought they would win.
Ashley Harris, a UNC senior, said federal action against Ferguson would be a step in the right direction.
“It’s not just Ferguson that has this problem,” she said. “I applaud Ferguson and I applaud the protestors that say something about it. I don’t applaud what actions the police officers are making now.”
“There are obviously some racial disparities that should be addressed,” agreed junior Cameron Bynum.
Shaw said he applauds the Justice Department for pushing for change in Ferguson.
“If the federal government says it is a pattern of practice of misconduct and racial discrimination and not just focused in the mind of a police officer when he pulled the trigger, that’s different and about systematic change — it is important for the government to do this. It is significant, it is meaningful.”