Following the searing U.S. Department of Justice report that found local officials were using Ferguson, Missouri’s municipal court as a fundraising operation, the state’s highest court has announced that it will take over municipal cases. Judge Roy L. Richter, who had been serving in the Missouri Supreme Court’s appellate division, will move to the circuit court in St. Louis County and hear Ferguson cases, officials said on Monday evening. Ronald Brockmeyer, the current municipal judge in Ferguson who served there for approximately 10 years, resigned his post effective immediately, the New York Times reported.
In the DOJ’s report, federal officials said the Ferguson Police Department and the municipal court targeted and disproportionately fined and jailed African-Americans in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb that is two-thirds black. The city of about 21,000 people became known for the police shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by the white police officer Darren Wilson. News of Brown’s death set off nationwide protests, as well as the federal investigations.
With the announcement of changes at the municipal court, state judiciary officials signaled that calls for an overhaul of Ferguson’s criminal justice system were being taken seriously. “Judge Richter will bring a fresh, disinterested perspective to this court’s practices, and he is able and willing to implement needed reforms,” Chief Justice Mary R. Russell of the State Supreme Court said in a statement. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in a press conference last week, said local officials’ blatant violation of residents constitutional rights could only be corrected by a rebuilding and retraining of the police department and city employees.
To achieve its financial goals, Ferguson officials mandated that police officers issue an increasing number of tickets for municipal code violations. According to the DOJ report, African-Americans took an overwhelming majority of the abuse. They accounted for 85 percent of drivers in police traffic stops, 90 percent of traffic-ticket recipients and 93 percent of those arrested.
Those who missed court dates or couldn’t pay the fines were often jailed, according to the report. The scheme was lucrative. Fines and court fees generated well over $4.5 million in Ferguson. Holder said the police department and official’s conduct created the atmosphere that caused local protests to turn violent after Brown’s death.