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Ferguson police chief resigns after scathing federal report

Chief Thomas Jackson had resisted calls to step down over his handling of the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown

The police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, resigned on Wednesday, following a scathing U.S. Justice Department report that found widespread racially biased abuses in the city's police department and municipal court.

The resignation of Chief Thomas Jackson, which the city announced in a brief statement, is the latest in a string of departures since the Justice Department announced on March 4 that a months-long probe had uncovered a range of unlawful and unconstitutional practices.

"This was a mutual decision by both the police chief and the city’s administration," Ferguson mayor James Knowles read from a prepared statement at a press conference. Knowles referred to Jackson as an "honorable man" and thanked him for his service.

Protesters had called for Jackson's removal since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9. The killing triggered protests in cities around the country and drew national scrutiny to police use of deadly force, especially against black men.

Neither a grand jury proceeding nor the federal probe led to any charges against Darren Wilson, the officer who killed 18-year-old Brown.

But it was the Justice Department findings that the police department was routinely targeting African-Americans for arrests and ticketing, largely to raise revenue for the city, that led to what the city called a "mutual decision" for Jackson to resign. 

Jackson's departure follows those of Ferguson City Manager John Shaw and Municipal Judge Ronald Brockmeyer earlier this week. Three other employees of the police department and municipal court left their jobs last week following the release of the Justice Department report. 

Asked by a reporter at the press conference whether he would be the next to go, Knowles responded, "Somebody is going to have to be here to run the ship."

Community leaders praised the police chief's resignation. "Chief Jackson stepping down is long overdue," said Patricia Bynes, a local Democratic leader. "It should not have gotten to this point. All the things that the Justice Department found that happened under his watch, you really have to question what made him think he could still be chief of police."

In its report on Ferguson, the Justice Department said it found evidence that the mostly white police force in the mostly black community was more focused on revenue raising than public safety. The Justice Department also said officers had a pattern of using excessive force and making illegal arrests, as well as deploying attack dogs and using Tasers on unarmed people. 

Jackson has commanded the police department since he was appointed by the city manager in 2010. The department has a total of 54 sworn officers divided among several divisions.

Jackson's departure is effective March 19, and he leaves with severance pay of about $96,000, his annual salary, and health insurance for one year, the mayor said.

The city said it would conduct a nationwide search for Jackson's replacement. But Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that the Justice Department could decide to possibly dismantle the Ferguson Police Department.

Vanita Gupta, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil rights division, says in a statement that the division will continue to work with city leaders regardless of who's in charge to "address (Ferguson's) unconstitutional practices in a comprehensive manner."

Mayor Knowles said Wednesday the town did not plan to take that step, though some politicians and activists believe that still needs to happen.

"This is a big step to continue to move forward but ... isn't enough," said Rasheen Aldridge, a member of a commission formed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to recommend community reforms. "The systemic problems that have been going on in Ferguson need to be dealt with."

Jamilah Nasheed, a Missouri State Senator, told Al Jazeera that she believed "in order to regain faith and trust within the department and within the Township of Ferguson, they're going to have to dismantle the police department."

The only way the healing process can begin, Nasheed said, "is if you get rid of the old and bring in the new."

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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