WASHINGTON, March 7 (UPI) -- U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder said Friday that he is appalled at the racist indications found by his Justice Department to exist within the Ferguson (Mo.) Police Department -- and went so far as to affirm that he will rebuild the city's entire police force from the top down, if necessary.
Holder's firm stance follows the resignations of two police supervisors and the firing of a top court clerk in the St. Louis suburb this week, stemming from a federal investigation into teenager Michael Brown's controversial shooting death last August.
"We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have, to ensure that the situation changes there," Holder said immediately upon arriving at Andrews Air Force Base Friday afternoon. "That means everything from working with them to coming up with an entirely new structure."
When asked whether that may include reorganizing the entire Ferguson police force, Holder said, "If that's what's necessary, we're prepared to do that."
Holder, the top U.S. law enforcement officer, made the remarks after returning to Washington from a trip to South Carolina with President Barack Obama. He has said the prejudicial attitudes reportedly held by some members of Ferguson's police department were "appalling."
"Unlawful practices and constitutional violations have not only severely undermined the public trust, eroded police legitimacy and made local residents less safe, but [they] created an intensely charged atmosphere where people feel under assault and under siege by those who are charged to serve and to protect them," Holder said earlier.
Holder does indeed have the authority to initiate wholesale regime change within Ferguson's administration. Police and city officials would need to enter into an agreement or negotiate a deal with the DOJ to implement the changes. If they do not, however, The Justice Department can file a civil rights lawsuit against the city on its citizens' behalf, the Washington Post reported Saturday. City leaders are far more likely to take the settlement track, as defiance would almost certainly bring about a public relations nightmare for a city that's already considered a national embarrassment and remains the focus of global outrage.
Friday, Obama called Ferguson's a "broken and racially biased system."
The officers who resigned Thursday, Capt. Rick Henke and Sgt. William Mudd , were linked by a DOJ investigation to multiple emails sent within the department that displayed racist attitudes. Tuesday, an 86-page Justice investigation report concluded that the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, should not be charged with any crime.
Henke, who was once Ferguson's acting police chief in the late 1990s, had been with the force since 1979. Meanwhile, Mudd was hailed as a hero in 1992 for his role in a courthouse shootout that subdued a rampaging gunman, a New York Times report said Friday.
Before submitting their resignations, the officers were put on leave earlier this week, and Ferguson's top court clerk, Mary Ann Twitty, was fired for alleged involvement, as well. Further, the DOJ report said Twitty was also involved in other unrelated inappropriate behavior -- like manipulating traffic tickets for acquaintances.
Justice investigators said some of the racist emails included disparaging assessments of Obama and one remark that equated a black woman's having an abortion to an effective crime-prevention technique, a New York Times report said Thursday. One message expressed doubt that Obama would remain in the White House long, noting, "what black man holds a steady job for four years."
The Justice probe discovered that the emails were circulated throughout the police department -- and, at the very least, were tolerated by city and police officials.
"Our investigation has not revealed any indication that any officer or court clerk engaged in these communications was ever disciplined," the DOJ report said. "Nor did we see a single instance in which a police or court recipient of such an email asked that the sender refrain from sending such emails, or any indication that these emails were reported as inappropriate. Instead, the emails were usually forwarded along to others."
But such brazen disregard for proper and ethical procedure may only be half of the story. Justice officials also said they found rampant and systematic discrimination of blacks in Ferguson, apparently aimed at facilitating a substantial revenue stream for the city.
Specifically, the Justice Department's investigation noted a police chief who authorized arrests without probable cause, a municipal judge who added to citations when citizens contested them, and a city manager who was the driving force behind the aforementioned system intended to exploit blacks for financial gain.
Brown's shooting sparked national outrage and facilitated widespread protest, and even some rioting. Later, reported discrepancies surrounding the shooting angered demonstrators further.
Last August, Ferguson police dispatchers were notified of a convenience store robbery and relayed the suspect's description to officers on patrol. A short time later, Wilson said he spotted Brown and another man on a city street and noted they resembled the robber's description. A confrontation supposedly followed, that saw Wilson struggling with the 18-year-old Brown through the window of his patrol car.
Moments later, Wilson said, the suspects were in the process of fleeing when Brown abruptly stopped and turned to face him. It was at this point that investigators say Wilson shot at Brown 12 times, striking him with several bullets. Brown was later found to be unarmed.
Some eyewitnesses said Brown raised his hands in a surrender gesture before the gunfire began, and others disputed the police claim that Brown was moving toward Wilson when he was shot.
The six-month DOJ investigation, however, said evidence corroborates Wilson's version of events and determined that there are no indications to suggest Wilson was not acting in self-defense, as he claims.