Police in Ferguson, Mo., have violated their own reporting standards since last month’s controversial fatal shooting of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson.
Ferguson Police Department protocol requires that a use-of-force report be submitted after all such incidents — lethal, nonlethal and even when barehanded physical force is used.
A written directive signed by Chief Thomas Jackson in 2010 states “early and accurate reporting helps establish agency credibility.”
But there is no use-of-force report for the Aug. 9 shooting death of Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old who was shot multiple times in broad daylight in the middle of a residential street.
Yahoo News requested the report under Missouri’s public records laws. Ferguson City Clerk Megan Asikainen, who manages all municipal records, said multiple times that the document doesn’t exist.
The absence of the report also goes against the recommended standards of state and national police credentialing groups.
“Whenever the event occurs, the report then follows it,” said Sheldon Lineback, executive director of the Missouri Police Chiefs Association. “It should be done as soon as possible.”
The required reporting is spelled out in Ferguson’s 770-page General Orders, a manual used to meet accreditation standards and establish department procedures. In officer-involved shootings in which anyone is wounded, the order dictates that the top supervisor on duty submit a written form to commanders.
Emails and messages left for Chief Jackson were not returned.
James Ginger, a national expert on police practices and procedures, reviewed Ferguson’s use-of-force policy at Yahoo News’ request.
“I don’t see anything in the policy that excludes filling out the report for any reason,” Ginger said in a phone interview. “It’s a violation of established policy.”
This sort of transgression is likely to be unearthed by the U.S. Justice Department’s widespread probe of the predominantly white, 54-officer department. Ferguson officials have said they welcome the investigation, which will look for patterns of discrimination and review how officers use force, search and arrest suspects, and treat inmates at the municipal jail.
“They don’t miss stuff like this,” said Ginger, referring to unaccounted reports. “That’s something that Justice is going to pick up on.”
The absence of the use-of-force report or even an explanation of why one wasn’t filed is the latest example of Ferguson authorities withholding public information in the aftermath of the shooting of Brown, who was black, by Wilson, who is white.
From the start, Chief Jackson has been chided for waiting a week to identify Wilson. A basic police report on the fatal shooting was delayed 12 days. It was largely blank and omitted the “name of the victim and immediate facts,” which Missouri law considers to be public. Other Ferguson police reports related to Wilson have been released to Yahoo News with the names of arrested persons and other required details redacted, also a violation of state law.
Earlier this month, Ferguson officials told Argus Streaming News, a small St. Louis publication, that its request for the arrest reports of two police protesters couldn’t be completed because the “Department of Justice is currently reviewing those same records.”
“Cooperating with the representatives of the Department is one of our highest priorities,” wrote the city clerk, who suggested that the reporter check back next month. A DOJ spokesman told the Argus that its investigation shouldn’t prohibit Ferguson from complying with public records laws, which include immediate inspection of arrest reports.
Some protesters have said part of their anger has been fueled by Ferguson’s secrecy surrounding the shooting. Last week, a handful of big-city police chiefs meeting in Chicago said they’ve taken notice and have pledged greater transparency with similar incidents.
Wilson, 28, is on paid leave while state and federal investigations are conducted.
Ferguson police turned the criminal probe over to the St. Louis County Police Department, but the use-of-force report would still be used as part of the department’s internal review.
Matthew Hickman, a criminal justice professor at Seattle University, speculated that the lack of a use-of-force report in Brown’s death could be bureaucratic.
“I don’t think there can be any explanation for the absence of a report other than it is still being reviewed by the chain of command,” Hickman said in a phone interview. “With an outside agency doing the [criminal] investigation, Ferguson may just be in a holding pattern.”
However, Ferguson officials did not explain why the report wasn’t submitted. Emails seeking comment from Mayor James Knowles and the two Ferguson council members representing the ward where the shooting occurred also went unanswered.
This is not the first time a use-of-force form wasn’t filed for one of Wilson’s cases.
On Feb. 28, 2013, Wilson arrested Ferguson resident Christopher Brooks for marijuana possession and multiple charges related to resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Brooks, 28, recently alleged that the officer “roughed him up.” But earlier this year, Chief Jackson awarded Wilson a police commendation for his actions during the struggle and arrest.
Yahoo News requested the use-of-force report from the Brooks arrest and was told it also doesn’t exist.
If no one notices that reports are not being filed, “it calls up an issue with supervision and management,” said Ginger, a 45-year veteran of law enforcement and police training.
“Had they been doing that all along, they may or may not have noticed some problems with this officer’s application of force, or report writing or any other number of issues that could have arisen,” Ginger said.
Accreditation boards recommend that police agencies review use-of-force reports annually as a part of ongoing training. Directives from police standards can also be used during trials to help juries understand an officer’s actions.
Ferguson officials tell Yahoo News that Wilson, a patrolman with the department since Oct. 3, 2011, has had no complaints filed against him during his tenure.
Hickman, a former DOJ statistician and researcher of police behavior, believes Ferguson eventually will have to comply with its own policy.
“I will be shocked," Hickman said. "If the involved officer did not generate a use-of-force report after discharging his firearm, that would be scandalous.”