AP news guide: A look at the turmoil in Ferguson

AP News
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Posted: Feb 11, 2016 2:43 AM
AP news guide: A look at the turmoil in Ferguson

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the city of Ferguson after the City Council failed to approve an agreement that sought to address concerns about police and municipal court practices in the St. Louis suburb.

The civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday comes about a year and a half after 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer, which eventually spurred the Justice Department's intense look at the city.

A look at the events leading up to the lawsuit:

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BROWN'S DEATH

On Aug. 9, 2014, white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson directed Brown and a friend who were walking in the street to move to the sidewalk. That led to a violent confrontation that ended when Wilson fatally shot Brown, who was black and unarmed. Several people who witnessed the shooting claimed Brown had his hands up in surrender.

But police maintained the officer shot in self-defense after Brown reached through the squad car window and tried to grab his gun, prompting a struggle. Police said Brown briefly ran away, then came menacingly at the officer, who opened fire.

Brown's body lay on the pavement for more than four hours during the investigation that day, which angered many of his supporters.

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PROTESTS AND LOOTING

The night after Brown's death, thousands of people gathered at the site of the shooting for a candlelight vigil. The peace of the vigil was interrupted by violence on nearby West Florissant Avenue, where some protesters set fire to a Quik Trip store. Within hours, several other businesses were damaged in looting. It was the first of many protests.

Police responded with armored vehicles, tear gas and other means criticized by some as excessive. Police leaders defended their actions as necessary to protect both peaceful protesters and officers. Hundreds of people were arrested over the course of several months of protests.

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INVESTIGATING THE OFFICER

Both a St. Louis County grand jury and the Justice Department began investigations of Wilson. The grand jury announced in November 2014 that no charges would be filed, ruling Wilson acted in self-defense. The decision caused renewed protests and led to perhaps the most violent night of the aftermath of the shooting, with fires set to more than a dozen businesses in and around Ferguson.

Wilson resigned within days.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department concurred in March that Wilson committed no crime, and declined to file charges.

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SEPARATE INVESTIGATION

While the Justice Department cleared Wilson, a separate investigation of Ferguson found significant problems. Justice Department investigators alleged that Ferguson police targeted black residents for harassment, used excessive force, and violated free speech rights of protesters. The report was also critical of a profit-driven municipal court that made money at the expense of mostly poor and minority residents.

Within days of the report's release, Ferguson's police chief, municipal judge and city manager resigned.

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TIME FOR TALKS

Seven months of negotiations between the Justice Department and a team of Ferguson leaders aimed at avoiding a civil rights lawsuit began last summer. The result was a tentative agreement announced in late January.

But after a cost analysis completed in recent days, Ferguson officials determined implementing the agreement would cost up to $3.7 million in the first year, and up to $3 million in each of the next two years. Many residents also questioned whether the deal would bankrupt the city.

The City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday to adopt the agreement, but with seven amendments. Ferguson leaders said the changes were necessary to keep the city solvent.

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CIVIL RIGHTS LAWSUIT

The Justice Department response was swift. Less than 24 hours after the city council vote, Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging wide-ranging violations.

"The residents of Ferguson have waited nearly a year for the city to adopt an agreement that would protect their rights and keep them safe. ... They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer," Lynch said.

While the lawsuit credited Ferguson with making some reforms to its policing and municipal courts, it called those changes "insufficient to eliminate the pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct and ensure it will not recur."