In weighing whether to bring discrimination charges against the Ferguson Police Department, the Justice Department has been “seriously examining” allegations that the city’s enforcement of minor offenses discriminated against minorities and often led to jail time and to fines that lined the city’s coffers, a law enforcement official confirmed to POLITICO.
Justice Department lawyers handling the investigation have repeatedly met with lawyers for a St. Louis nonprofit that filed a federal lawsuit last week alleging that the city of Ferguson and its neighbor, Jennings, were running what amounted to modern-day debtors’ prisons, people familiar with the meetings said.
The organization, Arch City Defenders, has been investigating for months allegations that the city of Ferguson engaged in a pattern of discrimination and encouraged its police department to target low-income residents and jail those who could not pay the fines.
Thomas Harvey, executive director of Arch City Defenders, told POLITICO that he and his colleagues have consulted Justice Department lawyers and that he met one-on-one with Christy Lopez, the deputy chief of the department’s Civil Rights Special Litigation Section. Lopez has been tasked with leading the Justice Department’s larger investigation of the Ferguson police.
“All discussions [with the Justice Department have focused on what we believe to be a connection between the allegations of police misconduct and the erosion of trust between members of communities of color and their government,” Harvey said.
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