I've covered the federal investigation of Ferguson for months, and went there with Attorney General Eric Holder on his visit last year.

I've been reporting on the Justice Department for NPR for more than four years now, focusing on civil rights, high profile criminal cases and legal issues that touch the lives of everyday people. Before that, I wrote for the Washington Post for about a decade, a bustling period of covering nationwide financial scandals and public corruption. I started my reporting career in D.C. at Legal Times, a trade paper that operated like a wildly dysfunctional family I still adore.

Emanuele Berry of St. Louis Public Radio is also here to talk about what's happening on the ground, and how the report is being received in Ferguson and neighboring communities. If you have question about local reactions to the DOJ report, send them her way. We'll start answering your questions at 4 p.m. E.T.

Proof: https://twitter.com/johnson_carrie/status/573938901112471553 https://twitter.com/Emanuelewithane/status/573950432814309376


Thanks for chatting everyone! We'll keep following the situation in Ferguson, and the Justice Department efforts to root out unconstitutional policing strategies around the country. Feel free to follow me on Twitter for updates @johnson_carrie. - Carrie

This was great. Thanks for chatting. Feel free to follow me on twitter @emanuelewithane as I continue to cover Ferguson. - Emanuele

Comments: 96 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

Frajer20 karma

is the level of racism in the Ferguson police department common or an outlier?

CarrieJohnsonNPR22 karma

President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder both say Ferguson is actually NOT an outlier, that if you look at many police departments all over the country, you will find evidence of systemic disparities in ticketing and arrests of minorities. DOJ has investigated about 20 law enforcement agencies since Obama took office for alleged excessive force or otherwise unconstitutional policing.

sarcasmandsocialism8 karma

Will the AG look at other police departments? What triggers a DOJ investigation? Can a community request it?

CarrieJohnsonNPR8 karma

Communities can and often do request DOJ to conduct an investigation. The Justice Department civil rights unit looks at patterns and practices of unconstitutional policing - and the COPS office (community policing) also can come in and prepare what it calls a "collaborative reform" plan for local police.

Haydendrofnad20 karma

Hey, big fan of NPR. I'm curious how you feel about the use of body cameras. Do you think they are a breach of privacy or necessary for today's law enforcement?

CarrieJohnsonNPR17 karma

Like so many technologies - it depends on how those body worn cameras are actually USED by police. There are some big privacy considerations about the images of entirely innocent people picked up by the cameras, how the images are stored and for how long they are saved. The President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing reported this week the cameras can be useful, but they're not a cure-all. (page 31-32) Here's a link to the report: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/Interim_TF_Report.pdf

thebigbradwolf19 karma

What is the worst thing in the report to you?

CarrieJohnsonNPR34 karma

Aside from the emails, what stands out for me is the way in which the police department and the courts worked hand in hand to operate what AG Holder called a "collection agency" to target often impoverished and vulnerable people. The whole system not just one person.

tbarb0016 karma

What surprised you most in the report?

CarrieJohnsonNPR49 karma

Those emails are really toxic and awful - comparing the president to a "chimpanzee" and saying he won't serve a full term because "what black man holds a steady job for four years." And they were written by people in the Ferguson police with supervisory authority!

Bardfinn13 karma

Have you seen evidence that the Ferguson PD or any of the other PD's that assisted Ferguson PD sought to suppress Consitutionally-protected speech, gathering, or association under the colour of law, in the wake of the shooting and initial protests?

CarrieJohnsonNPR27 karma

The Justice Department found Ferguson police routinely violated people's First Amendment rights to speech and association, by cracking down on folks who recorded police and punishing them for "talking back" to officers. And that's not including the protesters who were arrested in Ferguson after the shooting - the ACLU has been doing a lot of litigating to protect their rights.

woopoodoo9 karma

Hi Carrie, thanks for being here. I find the report troubling and very saddening - the police who are supposed supposed to protect and serve the residents and instead they prey on them for profit and sport. My question is: What kind of changes could the residents of Ferguson expect of their police department with the release of the report? And when would these changes be implemented? And do you think that the police chief should be fired? Who else besides the police chief should be fired? Once again, thanks for your time and your insights.

CarrieJohnsonNPR13 karma

Don't want to venture a comment about whether anyone in Ferguson should be fired. And focusing on a few individuals might distract from the systemic problem DOJ says exists there. It's not clear to me how many changes Ferguson will make - Justice has recommended 26 action items, and it will take a LOT of work for that system to change: not just police, but courts too.

mattBernius8 karma

Hi Carrie and Emanuele, I've really been enjoying your coverage of this. I haven't had a chance to read the report and I was wondering to what degree did the report focus on the Grand Jury proceedings. In particular, did it address any of the topics that analysts at the time were critical of, such as:

  • The State reading the wrong statute for the proper use of force
  • The decision by the State to simply present evidence without any recommended charges
  • The decision to essentially cross examine witnesses and bring forward witnesses who had apparently given multiple, conflicting accounts of the incident

CarrieJohnsonNPR17 karma

Thanks very much for listening to NPR. Rather than go over the state grand jury prosecution with a fine-toothed comb, the federal prosecutors at Justice say they did an independent analysis of physical evidence and interviewed 100 people who said they were eyewitnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown. Top aides to Attorney General Eric Holder said he had privately been very critical of the county prosecutor, but very little of that second-guessing showed up in the DOJ report. That federal report focuses on whether civil rights prosecutors could find any evidence to disprove Officer Darren Wilson had reason to fear for his safety--and they came up with nothing. Many of those witnesses, Justice said, were unreliable and some recanted their testimony that Michael Brown had his hands up, as if to surrender.

wartodas7 karma

Hi Carrie! Thanks so much for doing this. I get that there was/is a lot of racist sentiment in the Ferguson PD and the report came out with even racist remarks about the President.

I was wondering if anything in that report was directly pointed at Darren Wilson? Was there any evidence of him personally having made racist remarks or anything of the like?

CarrieJohnsonNPR16 karma

The DOJ report mentions 7 emails investigators uncovered that make racist remarks or jokes about the President, the First Lady, and African Americans in general. Really terrible stuff. Justice investigators did not identify the authors and recipients. But Ferguson officials say one of the people was fired earlier in the week, and local reports indicate the other two may now be gone, as well. None of them was Darren Wilson.

Mgbarrow7 karma

What evidence is in the report that disproves that Michael Brown had his hands up?

CarrieJohnsonNPR14 karma

DOJ report says page 82 that although some witnesses reported Brown had his hands up or out at waist level, they also told investigators Officer Wilson had reason to feel threatened. "There are no witnesses who could testify credibly that Wilson shot Brown while Brown was clearly attempting to surrender."

artemisbb4 karma

Will any of the so-called 'unreliable' witnesses, or those who recanted, be charged with perjury?

CarrieJohnsonNPR7 karma

Can't speak to what local prosecutors will be doing, if anything. It's very unlikely the Justice Department and FBI would expend any resources on that type of case, or that they'd have the will to do so.

Jopale4 karma

Emanuele and Carrie: thank you for your AMA! Huge fan of NPR, here, from Denver, CO.

Emanuele: Being St. Louis Public Radio, what are you feelings regarding the extent to which your city will take a proactive approach to resolve these issues? I've read the linked report and have read the denizen's response, I'd like to know yours'.

Carrie: Having covered a multitude of civil rights and legal issues, what opportunities do you think Ferguson has in terms of new/profound/unique ways of approaching this old issue, if any? How is this set of injustice different from those you've covered in the past? In other words, what are your thoughts on the way Ferguson ought to proceed?

CarrieJohnsonNPR7 karma

I've been covering law and law enforcement for a long time now and I don't remember a time when so much of the country was interested in having a conversation about police and community relations. The deaths in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, and Los Angeles have focused attention on the issues in an important if tragic way. I'm going to be really interested to watch if political leaders and law enforcement roll up their sleeves and do the hard work to make changes.

rgress351 karma

Hi Carrie,

I feel that along with the horrible issue of racism rampant in the police department of Ferguson, as well as implications of judicial members, we should look into the core issue of the corruption in front of us.

At one point can we justify doing a broader probe into other departments across the nation?

Let's say you are walking by a dumpster, and you find a kitten there starving to death. You may have a moment of sadness but do you take the action to look for more kittens in the dumpster, or do you walk past ignoring it completely?

In a metaphorical sense anyway.

CarrieJohnsonNPR8 karma

There are about 18,000 state and local police agencies in the country. That's far too many for the feds to go in and investigate every one, even if there is credible evidence of unconstitutional action. To some extent what the Obama administration is calling for with the Ferguson report and the release earlier in the week of the broader policing report (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/03/02/390235675/task-force-calls-for-independent-probes-of-police-involved-shootings) is for law enforcement to look deep at a local level rather than waiting for the Justice Department to show up in town.

Tekken71 karma

The summary paragraph to the introduction of the report states that:

“[…] the justice system alone cannot solve many of the underlying conditions that give rise to crime. It will be through partnerships across sectors and at every level of government that we will find the effective and legitimate long-term solutions to ensuring public safety.”

I do not follow televised news for the most part, but all I do hear when I am exposed it about Ferguson is either about racism or body cameras. This report flat-out states that way more needs to be done about the problem presented in Ferguson on an institutional level.

Is there any public opinion/requests or any authoritative information about partnerships to help facilitate a better future for the people?

CarrieJohnsonNPR3 karma

There is the president's report on 21st century policing referenced & linked to earlier in the chat. And AG Holder, who is preparing to retire in the next week or two, says he wants to keep doing work to build relationships between police and communities when he leaves office. As you note, there is MUCH work to do, starting with relationships...and both sides getting to know and, eventually, trust each other.

GorgeousThumb-2 karma

How many credible witnesses were used in the trial? Either for or against Darren Wilson? Were there any witness testimonies that seemed sketchy?

CarrieJohnsonNPR6 karma

There was no trial - either at the state level, where the grand jury declined to indict, nor at the federal level, where prosecutors didn't even meet the bar of bringing the case to a grand jury. But the DOJ report includes a LOT of information about witness reliability that is worth reading (pg. 26-44).