Police trying to control the Ferguson protests and riots responded with an uncoordinated effort that sometimes violated free-speech rights, antagonized crowds with military-style tactics and shielded officers from accountability, the Justice Department says.
FERGUSON, Mo. — Police trying to control the Ferguson protests and riots responded with an uncoordinated effort that sometimes violated free-speech rights, antagonized crowds with military-style tactics and shielded officers from accountability, the Justice Department says in a document obtained Monday by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Vague and arbitrary” orders to keep protesters moving “violated citizens’ right to assembly and free speech, as determined by a U.S. federal court injunction,” according to a summary of a longer report scheduled for delivery this week to police brass in Ferguson, St. Louis County, St. Louis and the Missouri Highway Patrol.
They already have the summary, still subject to revision, that was obtained by the newspaper.
It suggests that last year’s unrest was aggravated by long community animosity toward Ferguson police and by a failure of commanders to provide more details to the public after an officer killed Michael Brown.
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“Had law enforcement released information on the officer-involved shooting in a timely manner and continued the information flow as it became available, community distrust and media skepticism would most likely have been lessened,” according to the document.
It also says that use of dogs for crowd control incited fear and anger, and the practice ought to be prohibited. And it complains that tear gas was sometimes used without warning and on people in areas from which there was no safe retreat.
Moreover, it finds inconsistencies in the way police used force and made arrests.
“The four core agencies dedicated officer training on operational and tactical skills without appropriate balance of de-escalation and problem-solving training.”
The Justice Department examined the response of the four agencies in the first 16 days after Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown, 18, in a controversial confrontation Aug. 9. Those departments were the key players in managing unrest that drew help from about 50 jurisdictions.
The full report is expected to contain about 45 “findings,” with recommendations for improvement on each point.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said he hopes the report from the Community Oriented Policing Services branch of the Justice Department will provide a “road map” in similar situations.