New Ferguson judge orders major court changes

AFP , Tuesday 25 Aug 2015

Ferguson Municipal Court
FILE - In this March 11, 2015, file photo, police and protesters square off outside the Ferguson Police Department, in Ferguson, Mo. Ferguson's new municipal judge Donald McCullin ordered massive changes Monday, Aug. 24, 2015 (Photo: AP)

A Ferguson, Missouri judge has ordered sweeping reforms to the city's court system five months after a scathing US Justice Department report following the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

The changes, announced Monday and aiming to build trust with black residents, included an order to withdraw all arrest warrants the city issued before December 31, 2014.

Judge Donald McCullin, who is African American, also ordered that defendants be given new court dates and be given various alternatives for fines, such as payment plans and community service.

He also said fines for the poor should be commuted.

McCullin was appointed in June following the publication of the critical Justice Department report.

That report found that the city's court system collaborated with the police department to unfairly target the local African American majority as a means to generate revenue.

All active warrants over five years old will be withdrawn, and McCullin is reinstating driver's licenses for many defendants who lost them for failing to appear in court or to pay a fine.

"These changes should continue the process of restoring confidence in the court, alleviating fears of the consequences of appearing in court, and giving many residents a fresh start," McCullin said in a statement.

"Many individuals whose license has been suspended will be able to obtain them and take advantage of the benefits of being able to drive.

"Moreover, defendants will not be disadvantaged in being afforded pre-trial release because of the inability to make bond."

Mayor James Knowles welcomed the changes "as a way to restore confidence in the Municipal Court."

Sometimes violent protests began again in Ferguson this month after peaceful demonstrations marking the first anniversary of the shooting that killed 18-year-old Michael Brown escalated into violence and looting.

The officer who killed Brown was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Tensions around St. Louis between the black community and the police have remained high since Brown's shooting.

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