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Ferguson holds 1st public meeting since scathing DOJ report

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    Police officers confront protesters Tuesday

FERGUSON, Mo. >> Ferguson city leaders are staying mum on whether more personnel changes may come during a meeting Tuesday night following a scathing federal report that already has led to a Missouri appeals court judge being tapped to overhaul the local court system.

The City Council in the St. Louis suburb, beleaguered by unrest since a white police officer fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer, is scheduled to hold its first public meeting since the U.S. Department of Justice last week accused its police force and municipal court system of racial bias.

The Justice Department investigation already has resulted in a shakeup: Racist emails included in the report led to the firing of the city clerk and resignation of two police officers last week. And on Monday, Municipal Judge Ronald J. Brockmeyer resigned and was immediately replaced by the Missouri Supreme Court with a state appellate judge empowered to overhaul court policies to "restore the integrity of the system."

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell warned that other changes may be coming, saying in a statement that "extraordinary action is warranted in Ferguson."

Mayor James Knowles III said the city would begin seeking Brockmeyer’s permanent successor on Tuesday. In a statement, he said the city looked forward to working with Missouri Appeals Court Judge Roy Richter "as it begins to regain the trust of the Ferguson community."

"We understand there has been mistrust for some time, but the naming of Judge Richter will begin a new chapter for our court," Knowles said.

He said he’s asked the city clerk to begin advertising for "a reform-minded judge" who would lead the court in a new direction and "allow offenders to leave with a belief that they were treated fairly."

Whether other changes will be imposed in Ferguson remains unclear. The City Council held a closed-door meeting Monday, gathering in public only long enough to adjourn. City Manager John Shaw was escorted to his vehicle by a police officer afterward, though it was unclear why.

The state Supreme Court also assigned staff from the state court administrator’s office to aid Richter in reviewing Ferguson’s municipal court practices. Richter is scheduled to assume his new role on March 16.

Ferguson has been under state and federal scrutiny since police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown, a black 18-year-old resident who was unarmed during the confrontation Aug. 9. The shooting prompted protests in the St. Louis area and across the nation.

A St. Louis County grand jury concluded in November that no charges would be filed against Wilson, who has since resigned. The U.S. Justice Department concurred last week, saying Wilson acted in self-defense.

But the Justice Department said in a separate report that Ferguson’s police and court systems functioned as a money-making enterprise that heightened tensions among residents. The report noted that Ferguson was counting on revenues from fines and fees to generate $3.1 million, or nearly a quarter of its $13.3 million budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

The federal report also cited several instances in which Ferguson’s municipal judge, court clerk or city prosecutor helped "fix" tickets for colleagues and friends, evidence of what investigators called "a double standard grounded in racial stereotyping."

An attorney for Brockmeyer, the municipal judge who resigned Monday, said Brockmeyer had been "fair and impartial" as a part-time judge and that the court clerk bore the primary responsibility for day-to-day operations of the court.

Messages seeking comment from the former court clerk, Mary Ann Twitty, were not returned. Twitty was fired Thursday, while the two police officers also allegedly involved in the racist emails, Capt. Rick Henke and Sgt. William Mudd, resigned Friday.

Police Chief Tom Jackson remains in charge of the 54-member police force. The department gave the state racial data related to its traffic stops Tuesday, shortly after Attorney General Chris Koster said it was among 17 law enforcement agencies at risk of losing state funding for failing to submit the data by March 1. The information is used in a statewide report.

Associated Press writers Jim Suhr in St. Louis and David A. Lieb in Jefferson City contributed to this report.

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