WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that there was an obvious need for "wholesale change" in the Ferguson, Missouri, police department.
The statement at a forum in Washington came as the Justice Department continues a broad investigation into the practices of the police department following the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown. That investigation focuses on alleged patterns of racial discrimination and on how officers in the predominantly white department use force and search and arrest suspects.
Local and federal authorities are also continuing to investigate the shooting of Brown by Officer Darren Wilson for potential criminal charges. A St. Louis County grand jury is expected to decide by mid-November whether to indict Wilson.
In a question-and-answer session with a newspaper columnist at the Washington Ideas Forum, Holder would not say what the reforms should be or discuss potential leadership changes at the department. But he did say, "I think it's pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate."
A government official confirmed Wednesday that there are discussions among Missouri officials about having Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson step down as part of efforts to change the department. The official was not authorized to discuss those talks by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Ferguson police department posted on its Twitter account that Jackson had not resigned and had not been asked to resign.
During a wide-ranging interview session, Holder was also asked about his 2009 characterization of the country as a "nation of cowards" when it comes to racial matters. He said he stood by those remarks and that the country was "still reluctant to talk about issues of race" and does so only during "episodic cases."
When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Holder, who last month said he would resign as soon as a successor is confirmed, said, "As a person who tried to make the country better and used the power of his office to raise issues that too often were not addressed."
He was also asked to name one decision he has made that he wished he could do over again. The attorney general singled out a Justice Department leak investigation in which emails from a Fox News journalist were secretly obtained. An affidavit in that case labeled the journalist, James Rosen, as a "co-conspirator" with the State Department expert who ultimately pleaded guilty to passing along classified information.
"We had to do that as a result of the statute but there are ways in which I think that could have been done differently, done better," Holder said.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Rosen said the Justice Department actions raised "serious concerns about the state of press freedoms under the present administration."
That case, along with a separate national security leak investigation in which telephone records of Associated Press reporters and editors were secretly seized, led the Justice Department this year to announce new guidelines for media leak cases.
The session was briefly interrupted by a heckler who demanded to know when the Justice Department would "prosecute the torturers," an apparent reference to the CIA's interrogation of terror suspects. A department investigation of the matter closed without any prosecutions.
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