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Ferguson chief resigns in wake of scathing federal report

By JIM SALTER and ALAN SCHER ZAGIERMarch 12, 2015
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FILE - In this March 4, 2015, file photo, protesters block traffic on the street outside the Ferguson, Mo., police department in Ferguson. The Justice Department on Wednesday cleared a white former Ferguson police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old, but also issued a scathing report calling for sweeping changes in city law enforcement practices it called discriminatory and unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
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FILE - In this March 4, 2015, file photo, protesters block traffic on the street outside the Ferguson, Mo., police department in Ferguson. The Justice Department on Wednesday cleared a white former Ferguson police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old, but also issued a scathing report calling for sweeping changes in city law enforcement practices it called discriminatory and unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

FERGUSON, Missouri (AP) — The police chief in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson resigned Wednesday in the wake of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report prompted by the fatal shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old by a white police officer.

Chief Thomas Jackson had previously resisted calls by protesters and some of Missouri’s top elected leaders to step down over his handling of the August shooting of Michael Brown and the weeks of sometimes-violent protests that followed. He was widely criticized from the outset, both for an aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency’s erratic and infrequent releases of key information. He took nearly a week to publicly identify Officer Darren Wilson as the shooter.

Jackson submitted a four-sentence letter in which he said he was announcing his resignation with profound sadness.

Calling Jackson an “honorable man,” Mayor James Knowles III announced the city had reached a mutual separation agreement that will pay Jackson one year of his nearly $96,000 annual salary and health coverage.

During a 12-minute news conference, Knowles said Jackson resigned after “a lot of soul-searching” about how the community could heal from the racial unrest stemming from the fatal shooting last summer.

Jackson oversaw the Ferguson force for nearly five years before the shooting that stirred months of unrest across the St. Louis region and drew global attention to the predominantly black city of 21,000. Brown’s death prompted a heated national debate on how African-Americans and other minorities are treated by police.

Jackson’s handling of the situation drew wide criticism from the outset, both for the aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency’s erratic and infrequent releases of key information.

He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he felt now was time for the city to move on.

“This city needs to move forward without any distractions,” Jackson said.

Jackson becomes the sixth Ferguson employee to resign or be fired after the U.S. Department of Justice last week issued a report that cleared Wilson of civil rights charges in the shooting but found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in the city police department.

The acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division released a statement saying the U.S. government remains committed to reaching a “court-enforceable agreement” to address Ferguson’s “unconstitutional practices,” regardless of who’s in charge of the city.

A U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday that the Justice Department had not pressured or encouraged Jackson to resign during meetings with him but had also not resisted the idea. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing meetings between the Justice Department and the police department.

The Justice Department report found that Ferguson’s police and court systems functioned as a money-making enterprise rather than one meant to ensure public safety. The report found black drivers in Ferguson were more than twice as likely as others to be searched during routine traffic stops and more likely to face excessive force from police, often during unwarranted stops.

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