By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Reuters) - The police chief of Ferguson, Missouri, resigned on Wednesday, following a scathing U.S. Justice Department report that found widespread racially biased abuses in the city's police department and municipal court.
The resignation of Chief Thomas Jackson, which the city announced in a brief statement, is the latest in a string of departures since the Justice Department announced on March 4 that a months-long probe had uncovered a range of unlawful and unconstitutional practices.
Protesters had called for Jackson's removal since the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9. The killing triggered protests in cities around the country and drew national scrutiny to police use of deadly force, especially against black men.
Neither a grand jury proceeding nor the federal probe led to any charges against Darren Wilson, the officer who killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
But it was the Justice Department findings that the police department was routinely targeting African-Americans for arrests and ticketing, largely to raise revenue for the city, that led to what the city called a "mutual decision" for Jackson to resign.
Jackson's departure follows those of Ferguson City Manager John Shaw and Municipal Judge Ronald Brockmeyer earlier this week. Three other employees of the police department and municipal court left their jobs last week following the release of the Justice Department report.
"Chief Jackson stepping down is long overdue," said Patricia Bynes, a local Democratic leader. "It should not have gotten to this point. All the things that the Justice Department found that happened under his watch, you really have to question what made him think he could still be chief of police."
PATTERN OF ABUSES
In its report on Ferguson, the Justice Department said it found evidence that the mostly white police force in the mostly black community was more focused on revenue raising than public safety. The Justice Department also said officers had a pattern of using excessive force and making illegal arrests, as well as deploying attack dogs and using Tasers on unarmed people.
Jackson has commanded the police department since he was appointed by the city manager in 2010. The department has a total of 54 sworn officers divided among several divisions.
Jackson's departure is effective March 19, and he leaves with a severance payment and health insurance for one year, the city said.
The city said it would conduct a nationwide search for Jackson's replacement. But Attorney General Eric Holder said last week that the Justice Department could decide to possibly dismantle the Ferguson Police Department.
Some local activists believe that still needs to happen.
"This is a big step to continue to move forward but ... isn't enough," said Rasheen Aldridge, a member of a commission formed by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to recommend community reforms. "The systemic problems that have been going on in Ferguson need to be dealt with."
Thomas Harvey, a St. Louis civil rights attorney who has been critical of the actions of the police in Ferguson and other St. Louis-area cities, said the abuses are common throughout the region.
"It is very dangerous to mistake what should have already happened six months ago as progress,” Harvey said.
“Ferguson knew this was happening and waited for the DOJ to force its hand. Nothing changes for the region unless every town subjects itself to its own DOJ investigation.”
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Eric Beech)