After push and pull, last hearing set on Ferguson settlement

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ST. LOUIS (AP) – After months of negotiations and some late push and pull over the cost, the last public hearing is set for Tuesday on the U.S. Department of Justice’s settlement with Ferguson that calls for sweeping changes in the St. Louis suburb where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by police.

Giving people one last chance to weigh in, the hearing is not required by law but was requested by both the Justice Department and Ferguson leaders. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry, who is hosting it, had received about two dozen written comments prior to the hearing, a mix of those in favor of the agreement, those opposed to it, and those suggesting changes.

Ferguson “is not a racist community,” resident Billy Tucker wrote. “We are one of the most integrated, diverse communities in the Midwest.”

Overall, the agreement calls for the hiring of a monitor; diversity training for police; purchase of software and hiring of staff to analyze records on arrests, use of force and other police matters; and outfitting all officers and jail workers with body cameras.

It follows the fatal shooting of Brown, who was unarmed, during a street confrontation with officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014. Brown’s death was a catalyst in the national Black Lives Matter movement.

A grand jury and the Justice Department cleared Wilson, who resigned from the police force in November 2014, but the shooting led to a Justice Department investigation. That inquiry found alarming patterns of racial bias in policing and a municipal court system that generated revenue largely on the backs of poor and minority residents. The Justice Department’s critical report in March 2015 prompted the resignations of Ferguson’s city manager, police chief and municipal judge. All three were white men who have since been replaced by black men.

Ferguson leaders and Justice Department officials spent months negotiating the settlement. But in February, after a series of public hearings, the City Council rejected it, mostly over concerns the cost could bankrupt the town. The Justice Department sued the next day. In March, after receiving some assurance that the cost wouldn’t be as high as feared, the City Council approved the deal, expected to cost about $2.3 million over three years.

Among the comments submitted to Perry, resident Keith Rose suggested changes to allow for more civilian oversight and greater transparency and accountability.

Debra Kennedy, who is black, said she doubted the settlement would do any good and wondered why police supervisors “who have been ignoring our community’s complaints for decades are suddenly going to start abiding by their policy manuals simply because the Department of Justice says they will.”

Others said the federal government shouldn’t meddle in Ferguson’s business. Kelly Schlereth, who has lived in Ferguson for more than two decades, wrote that the Justice Department is trying to make up for not finding cause to criminally charge Wilson.

“The DOJ has consistently been biased in their investigation into the practices of the Ferguson police department,” Schlereth wrote.

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