Tactics used by police in Ferguson, Missouri, to control demonstrators protesting the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer last year sometimes violated free-speech rights and provoked crowds, according to a Department of Justice document, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Monday. The report comes nearly four months after the Justice Department accused Ferguson officials of disregarding the constitutional rights of the city’s African-American residents.
According to the summary of the report, “vague and arbitrary” orders by police “violated citizens’ right to assembly and free speech.” The document summary also pointed to the use of “highly elevated tactical responses,” which were considered “inappropriate” as they only served to “exacerbate tensions between protesters and the police.”
The report also suggested that last year’s unrest worsened because of a long-standing distrust in the predominantly black community toward Ferguson police, as well as the force's failure to obtain details of the shooting incident where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by Darren Wilson, a white police officer.
“Had law enforcement released information on the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner and continued the information flow as it became available, community distrust and media skepticism would most likely have been lessened,” according to the document.
The Justice Department also said that the use of dogs to control crowds incited fear and anger among protesters. It also condemned the use of tear gas without warning, and on people in areas where there was no safe retreat, the Post-Dispatch reported, adding that the full report is expected to provide about 45 “findings” with recommendations for police to improve crowd-control tactics.
This will be the third of four Justice Department reports related to the controversial Aug. 9 killing of Brown. While the first report said that Wilson was justified in shooting Brown, the second report criticized practices by Ferguson police and the municipal court, the Post-Dispatch reported. The fourth report is expected to analyze practices of the St. Louis County Police Department in the wake of the incident.
In March, another report from the Justice Department accused officials in Ferguson of routinely violating the constitutional rights of African-Americans in the city, and of making racist jokes on their city email accounts. The report also accused officials of holding racial stereotypes, which contributed to years of excessive force against blacks and unjustified traffic stops by police officers.
“We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve,” FBI Director James Comey said in a statement earlier this year, adding that changes in police behavior toward minority communities across the nation were on the way.