Attorney General Eric Holder called the need for “wholesale change” in the Ferguson, Missouri, police department as being “pretty clear” and “appropriate.” His comments on Wednesday came in light of revelations from local and federal officials that a plan is in the works to shakeup the police department, including a possible resignation of Chief Thomas Jackson and potential dismantling the department.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate. Exactly what the form of that change will be, I think, we’ll wait until we complete our inquiry,” Holder said in an interview with Jonathan Capehart during the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday.
MSNBC reported early Wednesday morning that local, state and federal officials were working on plans for major change in the department. According to sources with knowledge of the plans, new developments could include the resignations of Chief Jackson and Officer Darren Wilson, whose shooting and killing of an unarmed black teenager in August sent the city spiraling in unrest.
Another source with direct knowledge of the plans described them as “extremely delicate” and said the details are still being hashed out in closed-door meetings between Ferguson city and St. Louis County officials. Federal officials tell msnbc that the Justice Department is also being consulted.
Jackson’s resignation could come as early as next week, three sources said. As part of the plan, the resignation would be the first move ahead of a complete takeover of the department by the St. Louis County police. A source within the Obama administration confirmed with msnbc that plans for a shakeup of the Ferguson Police Department were in the works, but said that details have not been fully worked out.
When Holder was asked about the reports, the attorney general declined to comment, citing the Justice Department’s pattern and practice investigation of the police department. The Justice Department is conducting a civil rights investigation into the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown Jr., as well as the entire department for allegations of past discriminatory practices.
Jackson told NBC News late on Tuesday night that “I have not been asked to resign, I have not been fired, and I will not be resigning next week. If I do resign, it will be my choice.” Multiple sources told msnbc on Wednesday that it was unclear if Jackson had been aware of the back-channel conversations that included him being removed from his position.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III denied plans for Jackson to resign, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch via text that “He’s stayed strong with us till this point. Don’t see that changing.” Knowles also said that the city had not been asked by federal officials to contemplate dismantling the police force.
Shortly before news of the plans were first published by media outlets, the Ferguson City Council passed resolutions calling for state reforms to the process of investigating deadly force by law enforcement. One resolution called for the general assembly to enact legislation that would “establish a clear process for investigation of an response to cases involving a law enforcement officers use of deadly force.” Another would require state police agencies to report annually their use of force data, including the number of incidents and the circumstances surrounding them.
The resolutions were passed without opposition, and are the latest moves by the city council to patch what many black residents describe as a criminal justice system that has been rigged against them.
News of the behind the scene efforts to restructure the Ferguson police force comes as community leaders and residents anxiously await a grand jury’s decision as to indict or not to indict Officer Wilson in Brown’s death, and amid a string of recent leaks from the grand jury and investigation.
Holder on Wednesday called the leaks inappropriate and expressed his discontent with what he described as an attempt to shape public opinion in the case.
“I’ve said I’m exasperated. That’s a nice way of saying I’m mad, because that’s just not how things should be done,” he said. “Whoever the sources of the leaks are need to shut up.”