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AP NewsBreak: Ferguson leaders, DOJ officials to meet again

By JIM SALTER
Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Ferguson city leaders will meet with Justice Department officials in about two weeks and provide a plan for ways to improve the police department following a scathing report released this week, Mayor James Knowles III said Friday.

Knowles told The Associated Press that the goal is to work out an agreement with the federal government. A specific meeting date has not been set.

"They want to hear what we will do," Knowles said in a telephone interview. "We're going to hopefully work out some sort of agreement and we'll move forward.

"We've got to come up with solutions now," Knowles said.

The Justice Department on Wednesday cleared Darren Wilson, the white former Ferguson officer who shot Michael Brown, of federal civil rights charges in the death of the 18-year-old, who was black and unarmed. A St. Louis County grand jury also found no evidence of a crime and announced in November that Wilson would face no state charges.

But a separate Justice Department report released Wednesday found patterns of racial profiling, bigotry and profit-driven law enforcement and court practices in the St. Louis County suburb that has come to represent the tension between minorities and American police nationwide. Most of Ferguson's police officers and top elected officials are white, but two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black.

Knowles said city leaders are still going over the report "line by line" before determining reforms. Asked about Police Chief Tom Jackson, Knowles said he still leads the police force, but the mayor declined to discuss Jackson's future. Messages seeking comment from Jackson were not returned.

"I'm not here to just chop heads," Knowles said. "We have to evaluate everything in the report, pick out what are the systemic issues and what are the things we can fix."

The report uncovered racist emails from three city employees, including some that belittled black residents or President Barack Obama. Knowles said all three employees responsible for those emails ended employment with the city on Thursday. He declined to say if they were fired or resigned and would not provide their names or titles.

But Ferguson city spokesman Jeff Small said court clerk Mary Ann Twitty was fired. He said the other two employees worked for the police department, but he did not release their names. A message left for Twitty was not returned.

The mayor said he first learned of the emails Wednesday after meeting with Justice Department officials in St. Louis. He said he was so incensed that he ordered the accounts of all three employees disabled while he was in the car returning to Ferguson after the meeting.

Knowles said there was no evidence that Jackson or other police administrators were aware of those emails.

Attorneys for Brown's parents on Thursday announced plans for a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city and Wilson. By midday Friday, the suit had not been filed either in state or federal court.

The Justice Department report on the police department found that black drivers were more than twice as likely as others to be searched during routine traffic stops. Minority residents bear the burden of fines and court costs expected to generate $3 million this fiscal year. Black residents were more likely to face excessive force from police, often during unwarranted stops.

Some have called on the city to dissolve the 54-officer police force and allow either St. Louis County or a neighboring municipality to take over patrols. Knowles said there is "zero" percent chance of that happening.

"I don't say that defiantly," he said. "Our people (residents) have been asking us to keep our own department and for the citizens to have input in making changes."

Knowles said he was disappointed that Justice officials waited until releasing the report to advise him and other city leaders about some of the problems.

"There's a lot of things they could have told us sooner and we would have dealt with it," he said.

Still, he said it is clear that his community will benefit from the scrutiny.

"Ferguson is going to end up being reformed," Knowles said. "You can't draw any conclusion other than Ferguson will be better after this."

___

Alan Scher Zagier in St. Louis contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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