Five people in Ferguson have been fired or resigned under pressure in the week since the release of a Justice Department report alleging racial bias in the city police department and a profit-driven court system.
The latest to go was City Manager John Shaw, whose eight-year tenure in the St. Louis County town ended Tuesday when the city council voted 7-0 to approve a “mutual separation agreement.” His departure followed the firing of Municipal Court Clerk Mary Ann Twitty, the resignations of police Capt. Rick Henke and Sgt. William Mudd, and the Monday resignation of Municipal Court Judge Ronald Brockmeyer.
The St. Louis suburb has been beleaguered by unrest since a white police officer fatally shot unarmed, black 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer. Brown’s shooting prompted protests in the St. Louis area and across the nation, which escalated in November when a St. Louis County grand jury declined to bring charges against Officer Darren Wilson, who later resigned.
The Justice Department also cleared Wilson of civil rights charges in the shooting in a report released March 4. But that same day, the DOJ also issued a scathing report citing racial bias and profiling among police and alleging that the court system functioned as a money-making enterprise that particularly targeted the poor and minorities.
The report repeatedly cited Shaw’s role, as the city’s chief executive, in encouraging police to aggressively ticket motorists as a means to generate revenue.
Shaw, in a resignation letter, said that while he respected the Justice Department investigation, his office “never instructed the police department to target African-Americans, nor falsify charges to administer fines, nor heap abuses on the backs of the poor. Any inferences of that kind from the report are simply false.”
Mayor James Knowles said the city and Shaw “came to a mutual agreement that we wanted to move forward as a community.” A nationwide search for Shaw’s replacement will begin immediately, Knowles said.
The Justice Department findings also included racist emails. Twitty, Henke and Mudd were linked to those emails. All three were out of work by the end of last week.
The report led to a Missouri appeals court judge being tapped to replace Brockmeyer and overhaul the local court system. Knowles said Tuesday that city leaders are still evaluating the report before announcing full reforms. He said city leaders are expected to brief DOJ investigators again in about a week.
Tuesday’s meeting was relatively peaceful compared with many city council meetings in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. More than a dozen residents spoke, some in support of the city, other criticizing it. A few called for more personnel changes, including removal of Knowles and Police Chief Tom Jackson.
Things got briefly tense among the racially diverse audience of roughly 150 when Suzanne Schmidt, a white resident, expressed support for Wilson.
“A lot of people in this room owe Darren Wilson an apology,” Schmidt said to loud jeers. “That Justice report you’re basing your opinions on cleared him 100 percent.”
That prompted a shouting match with Danielle Morrison, a black resident, who said the confrontation wouldn’t have happened if the officer hadn’t targeted Brown because of his race.
“He apprehended him because he was a big black man,” Morrison said.
Since Brown’s death seven months ago, Knowles has been the public face and voice of Ferguson’s city government. But Shaw held the legal power to make personnel and policy changes in the police department — not Knowles, a part-time officeholder who earns less than $5,000 annually.
Shaw worked as city clerk and assistant to the city administrator in Shrewsbury, another town in St. Louis County, before coming to Ferguson.
Online biographies indicate that he grew up in north St. Louis County and lived in Ferguson before working for the city. He was honored in 2013 as a distinguished alumnus of a public policy administration program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, which is near Ferguson, and was listed as an adviser for the university’s student group for aspiring city managers.
Shaw, 39, had not addressed the shooting, protests, grand jury inquiry or Justice Department investigation until his resignation letter.
The DOJ report, in one instance, showed that Shaw responded to an email from Jackson about a record-setting month for court revenue — nearly $180,000 in February 2011 alone — with the exclamation, “Wonderful!”
And when Jackson told Shaw in January 2013 that municipal court revenue had exceeded $2 million the previous year, the city manager was similarly excited.
“Awesome!” he said, according to the federal inquiry.
Associated Press writer Alan Scher Zagier contributed to this report from St. Louis.
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