New Charges Stemming from Ferguson Protests
Earlier this month, the County Counselor’s office in St. Louis County began charging people that had been arrested in Ferguson, Missouri between August and December of 2014 – during many of the protests resulting from the death of Michael Brown. Those who had been arrested had been in legal limbo for almost a year, and many may have believed that prosecutors would not be pursuing criminal charges in their case. The charges have been receiving a lot of media attention and particular attention has been paid to two reporters who were arrested while covering last year’s protests and who were charged this month. The ACLU suggested that many of the cases, including the cases against the reporters, had been reviewed and rejected by other local prosecutors. It also appeared as though everyone who was arrested during the protests were receiving summonses.
During the protests, Ferguson police were enforcing a number of policies, some of which were later found to be unconstitutional. Some of those who are receiving delayed charges and warrants had likely been arrested for violating the “5 second rule,” which was enforced by many Ferguson police officers and which required protesters to be moving at all times (and prohibited stopping for no longer than 5 seconds). The rule was ruled to be unconstitutional by a federal judge in October of last year.
DOJ Report on Ferguson
These new charges have inspired renewed scrutiny of the Ferguson justice system, particularly in light of the Department of Justice report that was released in March. The report included a recommendation to completely overhaul the local criminal justice system, including abandoning the policing approach, retraining employees, and establishing new systems for accountability and oversight. The report determined that local police were unfamiliar with the law or did not follow it, and described a number of policies and procedures (either written or common practice) that violated citizens’ constitutional rights. Officers conducted “pedestrian checks” and over-used stun guns, even in situations where stopped citizens were merely asking questions about orders.
In addition to identifying problematic police practices, the report criticized the local court system as well. It noted that court employees report to the police chief, preventing the branch from functioning independently. In addition, citizens forced to deal with the court would face incorrect court dates, made-up court procedures, and jail for minor offenses, such as traffic violations.
Since the report was released, the DOJ and Ferguson officials have been engaged in negotiations about how to resolve and address concerns about bias in local law enforcement and in local courts.
Order Cancels Thousands of Warrants
On August 25, Ferguson Municipal Court Judge Donald McCullin issued an order cancelling all arrest warrants that were issued before December 31, 2014. The order also eliminates cash bond for traffic violations. For warrants that had been issued for failure to appear in court or pay fines, defendants will receive a new court date for the original underlying offense.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a constitutional violation, or unfair, unjust, or biased law enforcement, it’s important to speak with an attorney to understand your rights and remedies. Contact the experienced Miami attorneys at The Baez Law Firm to discuss your civil rights matter today.