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Ferguson Asks for Changes to Reform Deal

The Ferguson City Council has asked the U.S. Department of Justice for seven changes to a deal to reform the city’s courts and policing systems, a move that drew swift criticism from both the department and many residents.

In a unanimous vote, the council on Tuesday night moved to amend the proposed settlement that the city had spent seven months negotiating with the DOJ. The consent decree is intended to correct problems identified in a federal investigation that followed the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. The federal report noted unconstitutional and discriminatory practices across the police force and municipal court system.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said Wednesday that the changes were deemed necessary after a detailed financial analysis showed just how expensive the original agreement would be – so expensive, Knowles said, that it could lead to dissolution of Ferguson.

“We’re not trying to reopen negotiations. We tried to tell them what the city council will agree to,” Knowles said. If the DOJ opts to sue Ferguson, “we’ll have to deal with that in court,” Knowles said.

Several of the changes, proposed by Councilman Wesley Bell, aim to reduce the cost of implementing the deal that officials worried could bankrupt Ferguson. The council signed off on the rest of the settlement, and Bell said he was confident the DOJ would agree to the changes.

Ferguson has been under scrutiny since the killing of Brown, whose father stood quietly at the back of the meeting Tuesday night. The black, unarmed 18-year-old was fatally shot Aug. 9, 2014, by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson during a confrontation on a street. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to charge Wilson, who later resigned. He was cleared of wrongdoing by the Justice Department.

The shooting was a catalyst in the Black Lives Matter movement and sparked a national dialogue about police use of force.