Ferguson judge owes $170k back taxes
Ferguson police vehicles are parked at the entrance as protestors demonstrate outside the Ferguson Police Department in Ferguson, Missouri on March 4, 2015. An investigation by the Guardian found that Ferguson's municipal court judge owes $170,000 in unpaid taxes. Michael Thomas/Getty Images

A Ferguson, Missouri, judge who was the driving force behind a revenue-generating policy in the city that saw poor citizens fined and often jailed for their inability to pay small penalties has been revealed to owe the U.S. government more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.

An investigation by the Guardian found that the city's municipal court judge, Ronald J Brockmeyer, is subject to federal tax liens as the result of tens of thousands of dollars in overdue personal income tax from joint filings with his wife. The paper also found that Brockmeyer owes several thousand dollars in employer taxes for his private law firm, and that he had paid off another three overdue tax bills totaling almost $65,000 since November 2013.

A Department of Justice report on civil rights violations carried out by the authorities was scathing about the practices in Brockmeyer's court, which it said operates “not with the primary goal of administering justice or protecting the rights of the accused, but of maximizing revenue.”

The department concluded that the court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law, but rather “uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests.”

While Ferguson's municipal court regularly jailed impoverished citizens who were unable to pay fines for trivial offenses such as parking tickets or jaywalking, Brockmeyer and other senior law enforcement officials routinely dismissed similar tickets for friends and family, or requested others to dismiss tickets that had been issued to them, the report found.

When Brockmeyer ran a red light in neighboring Hazelwood, he emailed Ferguson’s prosecutor, Stephanie Karr, who is also the prosecutor in Hazelwood. Under the subject line: “City of Hazelwood vs. Ronald Brockmeyer,” according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Brockmeyer wrote to Karr:

“Pursuant to our conversation, attached please find the red light camera ticket received by the undersigned,” he wrote. “I would appreciate it if you would please see to it that this ticket is dismissed.” The ticket was subsequently dismissed.

The justice department concluded that the practice of writing off tickets was evidence of a double standard grounded in racial stereotyping.

“Even as Ferguson City officials maintain the harmful stereotype that black individuals lack personal responsibility -- and continue to cite this lack of personal responsibility as the cause of the disparate impact of Ferguson’s practices -- white City officials condone a striking lack of personal responsibility among themselves and their friends,” the report said.