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Justice Dept. sues Ferguson over alleged racial bias

By Shawn Price
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Justice Dept. sues Ferguson over alleged racial bias
Ferguson, Missouri Mayor James Knowles III reads prepared remarks to reporters in response to a federal lawsuit, one day after the city council voted to revise an agreement aimed at improving the way police and courts treat poor people and minorities in the St. Louis suburb, on February 10, 2016. Ferguson has been under Justice Department scrutiny since 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson 18 months ago. Justice The Department report was critical of police and a profit-driven municipal court system. Following months of negotiations, an agreement between the federal agency and Ferguson was announced in January. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Ferguson's decision to reject the agreement left the department no choice except to sue. Listening in are city council members Wesley Bell and Ella Jones. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- The U.S. Justice Department is suing the city of Ferguson, Mo. after city leaders rejected the recent settlement over its embattled police force because of costs.

The settlement would have brought sweeping changes to a police force accused of "racially discriminatory policing," since an officer shot and killed unarmed teen Michael Brown in 2014. The officer was never charged in Brown's death.

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"There is no cost for constitutional policing,'' Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in announcing the lawsuit Wednesday. She showed her exasperation with city leaders who "rejected the consent decree approved by their own negotiators. Their decision leaves us no further choice.''

Following a Justice Department investigation that found "systemic and systematic" racial bias in the Ferguson Police Department, the federal government reached a tentative agreement with the city last month after more than two years of negotiations.

RELATED Ferguson asks for changes to DoJ decree on court, police reform

The lawsuit alleges Ferguson engages in law enforcement conduct that violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and federal civil rights laws.

"I think the city of Ferguson had a real opportunity to step forward here,'' Lynch said. "Instead, they have chosen to step in the past.''

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Ferguson Mayor James Knowles defended the city council's unanimous decision to reject the deal -- or at least to revise it -- because it required large pay raises for local police officers. The city said it also wanted to avoid being bound by the agreement if the city eventually scrapped its police for another law enforcement agency.

RELATED Ferguson's deal with DOJ could cost $1.5M per year

"The ball is in their court," Knowles said at a news conference. "We're sitting and waiting to talk. If they want to threaten legal action, then that's what they're threatening."

RELATED DOJ reaches agreement with Ferguson, calls for revamped justice system and other reforms

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