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Justice Department Sues Ferguson, Missouri Over Police Reforms

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to force Ferguson to make the policing reforms it had earlier agreed to adopt.
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The U.S. Justice Department, fed up with the city of Ferguson, Missouri over proposed reforms in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting, filed a lawsuit late Wednesday seeking to force the city to make the changes it had earlier agreed to adopt voluntarily.

"The residents of Ferguson have suffered the deprivation of their constitutional rights - the rights guaranteed to all Americans — for decades. They have waited decades for justice. They should not be forced to wait any longer," said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in announcing the filing of the suit.

The city and the federal government reached an agreement in January, after seven months of negotiations, that called for improvements in police training and practices as well as changes in how local courts operate.

But Tuesday night, the Ferguson City Council, saying it was concerned that the agreement could cost nearly $4 million during the first year, voted to make changes.

Related: Justice Department Exploring Legal Action Against Ferguson

The council dropped requirements for higher police salaries and better staffing at the city jail. And it removed a provision that said the agreement would apply to any future agency that took over the police department, in the event the current one was disbanded.

Vanita Gupta, the acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, clearly irritated, issued a statement Tuesday saying the vote created "an unnecessary delay in the essential work to bring constitutional policing to the city, and marks an unfortunate outcome for concerned community members and Ferguson police officers."

The former attorney general, Eric Holder, launched an investigation of the city's law enforcement practices following Brown's shooting in August of 2014 by a Ferguson police officer. Brown was unarmed, and the shooting prompted nationwide outrage and the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

Justice Department investigations into whether a police department has demonstrated a pattern or practice of violations usually end with an agreement to make changes -- a consent decree. But when an agreement cannot be reached, the federal government goes to court to seek an order requiring the changes.

Lynch said she was "disappointed that the city chose litigation over a faster route that would bring changes." She said Justice Department negotiators were sensitive to the city's concerns about costs.

But now the city faces the added cost of legal fees as the final chapter plays out in court.