FERGUSON, Mo. (AP/KMOX) – UPDATED (4:59 p.m.) A Justice Department report summary has found across-the-board flaws in police’s response last summer to the protests in Ferguson, including antagonizing crowds and violating free-speech rights.
The Associated Press and KMOX News obtained the summary, which cites “vague and arbitrary” orders to keep protesters moving that violated their rights of assembly and free speech.
It is part of a longer “after-action” report that looked at the way police in Ferguson, St. Louis city and county and the Missouri State Highway Patrol responded in two-week period after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson officer last August.
Top police officials at those four agencies will receive the full report this week, which is separate from the investigation into the police department and courts conducted by the Civil Rights Division.
The report summary includes 46 findings, analyzing law enforcement’s use of force, including tear gas and canine units, the “keep moving” order, how it handled public information and media relations, among other topics.
A portion of the summary addresses the “keep moving” order or “five-second rule,” which was determined to violate citizens’ right to assemble and free speech by a U.S. federal court injunction.
“Unified command failed to establish a clearly marked First Amendment free speech zone,” the summary says. “When coupled with the ‘keep moving’ order, the overall effect was to discourage protesters from exercising their First Amendment rights. Protesters had to keep moving but were provided no clear alternative where they could gather in a zone and stand still.”
Tactical officers with military-style uniforms and weapons “produced a negative public reaction,” the summary says.
An “overwatch tactic,” where snipers on top of tactical vehicles used rifle sights to monitor crowds, is called “inappropriate as a crowd control measure” that “served only to exacerbate tensions between the protesters and the police.”
Law enforcement using protective equipment, such as helmets, vests, and shields, were perceived by many community members for offensive, not defensive, measures, the findings say.
The Ferguson Police Department didn’t have a plan to manage community reaction, according to the summary. Relationships with the community were “seemingly not developed,” which had “devastating effects.” Specifically, the findings say Ferguson police “lacked community relationships” with residents living in the Canfield Green apartment complex where Brown was shot, and with the African-American community as a whole.
Law enforcement agencies responding to Ferguson unrest “underestimated the impact social media had on the incident and the speed at which both facts and rumors were spread.” There was no social media strategy in place, according to the summary.
A Department of Justice spokesperson provided the following statement:
The Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services is preparing to release its after-action assessment on the regional law enforcement response to the demonstrations, protests and rioting that occurred the first 17 days following the shooting of Michael Brown. As part of the Critical Response program process, the COPS Office shares a draft summary of the report findings with agencies that are involved in the assessment to enable them to provide feedback, and identify potential inaccuracies, in advance of the report publication. The COPS Office will release the final after-action assessment in the coming weeks, which will convey the findings and lessons learned, following review by the agencies that are involved in the assessment. We will have no further comment on the information that was prematurely released until that time.
(TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)