ST. LOUIS (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department has told Ferguson officials it will drop a lawsuit if the St. Louis suburb approves a proposed agreement to reform the police department and court as originally written.
But if the city refuses to approve the deal its leaders negotiated over 26 weeks last year with the Justice Department, the federal government is prepared to continue with the lawsuit, according to a DOJ letter sent to Ferguson’s mayor on Friday and obtained by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
City Council members voted to accept the 131-page consent decree last month, but only if it included seven amendments. The Justice Department sued the next day, saying the amendments amounted to rejection of the deal.
The Justice Department began investigating Ferguson amid the fallout from the fatal shooting of black 18-year-old resident Michael Brown, who was unarmed, by a white Ferguson police officer in August 2014. The officer, Darren Wilson, was cleared of wrongdoing and resigned in November 2014.
The agreement was announced in late January, and the Ferguson City Council later hosted three public hearings that drew hundreds of people. Many spoke in favor of the agreement, but others expressed concern it could bankrupt the city or force it to dissolve.
A cost analysis completed last month suggested the deal would cost the financially struggling city between $2.2 million and $3.7 million in the first year, and up to $3 million in each of the following two years.
One provision requires Ferguson to develop a plan to offer police salaries that are among the “most competitive” with comparable agencies in St. Louis County. City Finance Director Jeffrey Blume said the provision may require that Ferguson give 25 percent raises not only to police officers but all employees — raising the cost to $3.7 million the first year, the newspaper reported.
The Justice Department’s letter, from Vanita Gupta, the head of Civil Rights Division, rejected that notion.
“We have always been clear that the salary provision neither requires any specific salary increase nor prohibits increases from being implemented over a reasonable time period,” Gupta wrote. “Nor is the recruitment plan required to address salary increases” for other city employees.