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Ferguson City Manager Cited in Justice Department Report Resigns

The New York Times logo The New York Times 3/11/2015 By JOHN ELIGON
John Shaw in 2014. © Scott Olson/Getty Images John Shaw in 2014.

FERGUSON, Mo. — The city manager of Ferguson, Mo., who a Department of Justice report said was responsible for overseeing the city’s operations as it engaged in racially biased and unconstitutional policing practices, has resigned.

The announcement came during a City Council meeting here on Tuesday, about a week after the scathing Justice Department report.

The manager, John Shaw, 39, had held the post since 2007. As Ferguson’s chief executive, he is the city’s most powerful official.

Until the Justice Department report was released, Mr. Shaw had remained largely in the background, while the city’s police chief and mayor became the public faces of turmoil in Ferguson.

But the report highlighted Mr. Shaw as one of the officials responsible for much of the questionable conduct by the police and the courts, which he oversees.

The Justice Department report accused city officials of running the Municipal Court system as a moneymaking venture and having a racially biased police force that regularly violated people’s constitutional rights.

The detailed report confirmed many of the grievances aired last year by blacks in protests after the deadly police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black. Though the Justice Department separately concluded that the officer, Darren Wilson, who is white, violated no federal laws in that shooting, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said investigations revealed the root of the anger that brought people into the streets.

Many residents and political leaders said they hoped that the Justice Department’s affirmation of their grievances would lead to change. And some of that appears to be happening.

On Monday, the Missouri Supreme Court took what it called the “extraordinary action” of assigning all of Ferguson’s Municipal Court cases to a state appellate judge. Meanwhile, the current municipal judge, Ronald J. Brockmeyer, whom the report accused of ticket-fixing and instituting unconstitutional fees, resigned.

While Mayor James Knowles III has stood as the public face of the city through much of the turmoil, other city officials, including Mr. Shaw, the finance director and the police chief, bore much of the blame for the city’s wrongdoings, the Justice Department said.

Ferguson police officers routinely harassed and abused people, jailing or using tasers on them without just cause, the report said.

“City and police leadership pressure officers to write citations, independent of any public safety need, and rely on citation productivity to fund the city budget,” the report said.

In an email from March 2010, the year Chief Thomas Jackson took his post, the city’s finance director wrote to the chief that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year.”

“ What are your thoughts,” he added, according to the report.

The chief responded that fines would increase once more officers were hired and that he was considering a different shift schedule that would put more officers on the street and increase traffic enforcement.

The next year, when Chief Jackson reported to Mr. Shaw that court revenue for February 2011 was more than $179,000, the highest monthly total in four years, Mr. Shaw responded in an email, “Wonderful!” the Justice Department report said.

As part of his job, Mr. Shaw recommended department heads — including Chief Jackson and Mr. Brockmeyer — to their jobs, and the City Council voted to approve them.

Over the past several months, Mr. Shaw has been the city’s lead official in discussions with the federal authorities over ways to improve the city. The Justice Department’s report, however, shows that Mr. Shaw aggressively pushed the police to bring in more money through tickets and fines that disproportionately fell on blacks. And he ignored warnings that the criminal justice system was unfair and needed fixing.

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