Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Wednesday afternoon that the federal Department of Justice will sue the cash-strapped city of Ferguson, Missouri, because the city council rejected an expensive deal negotiated by federal officials.
The rejection “leaves us no further choice,” Lynch said in her prepared statement, adding that Ferguson residents “have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer.”
With support from local residents, the racially mixed council rejected the deal unanimously because of its impact on the city’s budget.
The deal between the Department of Justice and the city of Ferguson was drafted after President Barack Obama’s administration investigated the city following the 2014 shooting death of Mike Brown, an 18-year-old black man who had accosted a store owner and then a white police officer. Widespread local misinformation about the shooting led to local riots and looting, as well as angry protests by the Black Lives Matter movement across the country.
The department’s investigation last year exonerated police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Brown but also criticized the criminal justice system in Ferguson. The report found that Ferguson was using the police department and the court system to generate revenue through ticketing.
The deal reached last month would have required a number of expensive changes, including raises for the police, training, and the hiring of an independent monitor. The costs would have required a tax increase on citizens. But after parts of the city were set fire by Black Lives Matter protesters, Ferguson has had a budget deficit of about $2.5 million.
At a meeting in Ferguson on Tuesday night that was monitored by top DOJ officials via a video, angry residents and city council members said that Ferguson could not afford the deal.
The council rejected the deal, partly because pay raises for police could cause a costly effect on pay for other municipal employees. The council offered some changes to the deal, and black councilman Wesley Bell said, “This is a way to meet the demands of the D.O.J., make progress with reform and keep lights on in the city.”
Wednesday’s decision by the Department of Justice shows that they are playing hardball. The move by the DOJ will likely cost Ferguson millions of dollars.
The aggressive moves by the Obama Department of Justice against Ferguson are part of a wave of lawsuits filed by the DOJ against police departments around the country.
Ferguson officials said that they plan to continue reforms, including the creation of a civilian oversight panel, despite the lawsuit.