Don Shrubshell / Columbia Daily Tribune / AP

New judge overhauls court in troubled Ferguson, Missouri

Municipal judge withdraws arrest warrants issued before Dec. 31, 2014, in city where police killed unarmed black teen

A new municipal judge in Ferguson, Missouri, on Monday ordered sweeping changes to court practices in response to a scathing Justice Department report following the police shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown a year ago.

Municipal Court Judge Donald McCullin, appointed in June, ordered the withdrawal of all arrest warrants issued in the city before Dec. 31, 2014.

Defendants will receive new court dates along with options for disposing of their cases, such as payment plans or community service. Fines may be commuted for indigent people.

The changes come five months after the U.S. Department of Justice strongly criticized city leaders in its report, saying the police force and court worked together to exploit people in order to raise revenue.

The Justice Department specifically said Ferguson's municipal court practices caused significant harm to many people with cases pending as minor municipal code violations turned into multiple arrests, jail time and payments that exceeded the cost of the original ticket many times over.

McCullin ordered that if an arrest warrant is issued for a minor traffic violation, the defendant will not be incarcerated, but will be released on their own recognizance and given another court date, the city said.

"These changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the Court … and giving many residents a fresh start," McCullin said in a news release.

He added that many people who have had driver’s licenses suspended will be able to obtain them and start driving again. In the past, the city's director of revenue would suspend a defendant's driver's license solely for failing to appear in court or failing to pay a fine.

McCullin replaced Judge Ronald Brockmeyer, who resigned after being criticized in the Justice Department report.

The Justice Department launched its investigation into Ferguson's police department and municipal court after the shooting death of 18-year-old Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.

Wilson was not charged in the shooting, and the incident triggered nationwide protests and widespread complaints of police mistreatment of black Americans.


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