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THE SITUATION ROOM
Ferguson Police Chief Resigns; Potential Secret Service Scandal
Aired March 11, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We are following breaking news, the resignation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police chief, Thomas Jackson stepping down after being singled out in a scathing Justice Department report on the city's police tactics and judicial system.
It was prompted by the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, shot by the white police officer Darren Wilson. We are standing by for a news conference in Ferguson this hour. We will have live coverage. And we are also covering all the angles of the breaking news with the our correspondents and our guests, including the head of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.
We have two reports, though.
CNN's Sara Sidner has been all over this story.
But let's get the very latest from our national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
What are you learning, Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're learning, Wolf, is Jackson's resignation will be effective March 19. That is a week from today. We're told that there will be a nationwide search to find his replacement.
And there are many in the African-American community in Ferguson who have been calling for his ouster since the killing of Michael Brown seven months ago. They believe that this is the first step in trying to rebuild trust with the police department.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Ferguson's infamous police chief, Thomas Jackson, is stepping down, this in the wake of the Justice Department's scathing report that found a pattern and practice of discrimination against African-Americans by the Ferguson police.
State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal says it's the only way the Ferguson community can begin to heal.
MARIA CHAPPELLE-NADAL (D), MISSOURI STATE SENATOR: He no longer has that ability to guide people in the right direction, because he has never been a true leader.
MALVEAUX: Calls for Jackson's ouster erupted again Tuesday night after Ferguson's city manager, John Shaw, resigned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is on your watch. This has all happened on you and Jackson's watch. You need to clean house.
MALVEAUX: The Justice Department report found the Ferguson Police Department showed a culture of discriminatory behavior, from excessive force targeting African-Americans to racist e-mails, including one depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee.
Jackson would be the third city official named in the Justice Department's report to resign.
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We are prepared to use all the powers we have, all the power that we have to ensure that the changes there.
MALVEAUX: The Justice Department found the Ferguson police and courts unfairly targeted and overticketed black residents for minor offenses. One African-American woman who was initially fined $151 for parking illegally ended up spending six days in jail and faces fines over $1,000 because she could not pay.
On Monday, Ferguson's municipal court judge also stepped down. One person who insists he is not going anywhere is Ferguson's mayor, James Knowles.
JAMES KNOWLES III, MAYOR OF FERGUSON, MISSOURI: Somebody has got to be here to take care of business. And, absolutely, I intend to stay.
MALVEAUX: As for the police department, there is an active debate over whether or not it should be dissolved and have Saint Louis County police take it over. There's actually precedence for that.
And of course there's going to be a lot of scrutiny, nationwide scrutiny, over who becomes the next police chief, whether that individual is representative of the community, namely African- Americans.
BLITZER: All right, about 70 percent of that community is African-American, maybe only two or three of the police officers African-American out of 50 or 60. We will see what they do in the search for a new police chief.
BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much. MALVEAUX: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's bring in CNN's Sara Sidner. She has been doing extensive reporting on what's been going on in Ferguson.
I know you are getting more information. Sara, what are you hearing from your sources?
SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I was just speaking to some of those who go out and protest and who have been very involved in the protest movement.
And they are planning to show up at the press conference that's going to be happening very shortly. But what they really want is they want more resignations. They are happy about this. I can tell you that, from all of the responses I have got from those who have been on the ground there who have been protesting against the department all these many months.
But they want to see more resignations. And when I asked, hey, you know, is this going to help start to heal things, start to move things forward? And the answer, some of them said, yes, we have been waiting for this for a while. But some of them said, we have to wait and see who replaces him and how this department acts in the future.
And so we will all have to wait and see how this plays out. I do want to mention this, Wolf. If you look at the DOJ report, they found no justification to charge officer Darren Wilson with civil rights violations. The grand jury said that it was a justified shooting. They did not indict him. And this may be, this bubbling up of anger may very well be from what else the DOJ found, which is that there was a huge amount of frustration between the African-American community and the police because of the ticketing practices.
And we have heard that over and over and over again, long before Michael Brown had ever got into the situation. So we will have to wait and see if those practices change. And, by the way, they're not the only department that has been accused of doing this. But they are the department that has, in essence, been caught by the DOJ -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we're standing by for that news conference. We will have live coverage, as you know, Sara, so don't go too far away.
In the meantime, let's get some more.
Joining us, the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.
Mr. Brooks, thanks very much for joining us.
What's your reaction to the breaking news today, the Ferguson police chief's resignation?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT, NAACP: Well, I view this as a validation, certainly not a victory. The fact is that the Department of Justice uncovered an unholy
trinity between the Ferguson Police Department, the municipal court and city hall. And the fact you have these resignations indicates that these public officials are reacting to the Department of Justice report the way roaches react to light. That is to say, they are running for cover.
And that's a good thing, because that department needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up. We need to create a culture of accountability. Those recommendations -- or not recommendations -- those recommendations and proposals put forward in the Department of Justice report have to be implemented. You need leadership for that.
And that, we did not have in that department.
BLITZER: As you know, the police chief stepping down, two police officers forced out earlier, the court clerk forced out, the city manager forced out. Is that enough, or do you want more?
BROOKS: The mayor needs to resign.
The fact of the matter is, the city manager worked pretty closely with the municipal court judge to impose these fines and in collusion and in collaboration with the police department, all under his watch. The fact of the matter is, we have a municipality that was acting in a rogue fashion.
The Justice Department report demonstrates pretty clearly that this unholy trinity violated the Constitution, federal statutes, undoubtedly state laws, and preyed upon the citizenry through municipal fines that were confiscatory and discriminatory. We have a police department that engaged in excessive use of force in a racialized way.
And we had police dogs being used on African-Americans and most notably children, all under his watch. And so the fact of the matter is, I'm not sure how you can have all these other officials resigning in the wake of this report and the mayor retain leadership and credibility. It's not plausible.
BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting though that the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, Darren Wilson, he was not charged by that grand jury. The federal government, Justice Department said they didn't have evidence to go after him in some sort of civil rights case. There's going to be a wrongful death civil lawsuit that the family of Michael Brown will file.
But it's I guess sort of interesting that the police officer himself, at least for now, seems to have been vindicated.
BROOKS: Well, from the vantage point of the family and the community, this is painfully ironic.
But I do note here that the attorney general noted the difficulty of meeting a civil rights standard -- his civil rights standard, in terms of demonstrating intent. And so I would not say that Darren Wilson comes out of this looking like an angel. It's difficult to prosecute someone under that statute.
And here we know this to be true. Darren Wilson operated in the midst of a rogue police department that engaged in all matter of unconstitutional, unlawful, discriminatory conduct. And the very behavior that he was -- the very behavior that he was accused of, namely using excessive force against an unarmed teenager, the report makes clear that that was a pattern and practice in the police department that he served in.
And so I wouldn't say that this report exonerates Darren Wilson.
BLITZER: Mr. Brooks, take a look at this. I don't know if you can see the video. But we have some live pictures coming in from Madison, Wisconsin. This is a separate story that we have been following here at CNN.
We're seeing protesters taking to the streets after another officer shooting. Another young biracial man was shot and killed over the weekend. And now you see threat protests clearly growing. These are live pictures coming in from our affiliate there in Madison, Wisconsin.
I know you have taken a closer look at what's going on there. Give us your analysis.
BROOKS: Well, Wolf, if this were another -- if this was simply one instance of a -- another young African-American man losing his hands at the police -- if this was somehow aberrational, but the fact of the matter is, all across the country, we see this again and again, in Ferguson, in Staten Island, in Cleveland.
There is what feels like for this generation a pandemic of police misconduct. The fact of the matter is, we know that one out of every four African-American men reports being mistreated at the hands of the police in any given month, that black men are much more likely to lose their lives at the hands of the police.
And so, empirically speaking and experientially speaking, there's a challenge here. But more to the point, we know that this kind of policing is not effective, it alienates communities, and that community-oriented policing in fact makes communities safer, prosecutions easier. So the fact that you have all of these people out on the street protesting yet another young man being killed only indicates the degree to which we have to respond to this crisis with a sense of urgency.
Congress needs to pass the End Racial Profiling Act. Two, we have got to have a national standard with respect to the excessive use of force. Remember, Wolf, only a few weeks ago, we passed the Death in Custody Act, which allows us for the first time to be able to answer the basic question, how many people lose their lives at the hands of the police in an awful -- unlawful manner?
So we are making some progress, but we're not making progress nearly fast enough or have we gone far enough for many of the people that we see in the streets all across the country. And the fact of the matter is, we're going to see more people standing up for community policing and government that really reflects our highest constitutional and moral values, so that what we're seeing in Wisconsin is significant. And we're going to see more of it, unless we as a country respond to this crisis.
BLITZER: Yes. And it's interesting also that a lot of this is taking place now just after last weekend, the commemoration of what happened 50 years ago in Selma, Alabama.
I know you were there, Mr. Brooks. We're going to take a quick break, much more coming on. We're following the breaking news out of Madison, Wisconsin, Ferguson, Missouri, standing by for the news conference, city officials getting ready to speak on the resignation of the police chief there in Ferguson -- much more right after this.
BLITZER: We are following the breaking news. We're awaiting a live news conference from Ferguson, Missouri, where the embattled police chief, Thomas Jackson, has resigned.
He is the latest in a series of Ferguson officials to step down in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and the Justice Department's scathing report that found a pattern and practice of discrimination against African-Americans in Ferguson.
We're back with the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks.
What larger impact, Mr. Brooks, might all of the Ferguson fallout have on the future of young black teens across the country? Step back and give us a little bigger picture.
BROOKS: Well, I believe that there's one positive lesson here, namely, that your actions as a citizen do make a difference, because, if we think about the fact that we had a young man lose -- who lost his life in Ferguson, Missouri, we had a group of young people, I would call them practitioners of democracy, who took their cell phones, their mobile devices and took those images of Michael Brown lying on the street and broadcast them around the world.
They had an impact, an impact on the White House, an impact on the Department of Justice. And so I think that's a positive lesson. Beyond that, I believe that what's happening in Ferguson, in Madison, in Staten Island and in Cleveland and in communities all across the country is that not only African-American teenagers and young people, but people of all colors, ethnicities, hues and heritage are coming together to say that we believe that police officers should be protectors, should be officers of the peace, and we can, in fact, have that.
And so the sense of urgency that we see at the grassroots level in communities all across the country is being felt not only among young African-Americans, but by people of various backgrounds. And so I believe that they are fueling a fundamental change and shift in policing in this country. And so we're moving beyond theory to practice, beyond slogans
about community policing to a serious commitment to community policing. That, I think, we can give credit to a group of young -- extraordinary young people, who only a few months ago, I will note, were being maligned in terms of being looters and that kind of thing, and I think that the fact that you have a Department of Justice and the attorney general who is essentially validating what they have been saying for months and what the NAACP has been saying for years on end.
BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks is the president and CEO of the NAACP.
Thanks so much, as usual, for joining us.
BROOKS: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right, we got some more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Senior administration officials telling CNN the White House is aware of an alleged incident involving Secret Service agents, yet another one. "The Washington Post" first reported two top agents are now under investigation for driving a government car into White House security barricades last week after drinking at a late-night party.
Let's bring in the "Post" reporter who broke the story.
Carol Leonnig is joining us now live from "The Washington Post" newsroom.
Tell us what happened here, Carol.
CAROL LEONNIG, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, Wolf, what happened here is that guys all got together, and women presumably, for a retirement party of a beloved Secret Service official, an agent, downtown Washington ANNE BARNARD: , and late that night, Wednesday, March 4, returned to the White House complex allegedly to get their cars.
As you probably know, a lot of Secret Service agents, particularly the senior ones involved here, have a government car that they drive back and forth to work. And according to our sources, they were leaving the complex, and the officers for the Secret Service who monitor the safety of the White House complex and ultimately the president and his family felt that these two individuals may have been intoxicated, were driving erratically, acting erratically, and they wanted to stop them and question them and potentially arrest them.
The Secret Service told us today they are confirming that there is an allegation or a series of allegations involving misconduct by these two individuals, very senior people, and that they are investigating it and that Director Clancy has asked the Department of Homeland Security to take over the investigation, in part because the guys are so high-ranking.
BLITZER: The two agents allegedly involved in this incident -- I read the lead of your story that is posted at "The Washington Post" -- one of them is a top member of the president's protective detail. Is that right?
LEONNIG: That's correct. He is described as the deputy special agent in charge. So, he ranks basically as the number two.
There are two people in that category, but the number two for the president's detail.
BLITZER: And, as we know, this new director of the Secret Service, he used to be on the president's protective detail as well. That's the elite of the elite for the U.S. Secret Service, right? So this obviously is a huge embarrassment.
LEONNIG: Well, it is the first test for Director Clancy. As you remember, Wolf, because you reported on this a lot yourself, an outside panel -- when things were going kind of haywire for the Secret Service late last year, all sorts of security gaffes and embarrassments, an administration panel came in and said, you need an outside director to run this agency, somebody with fresh eyes, somebody who is not tied to this group and isn't wed to this old guard of insular leaders.
Well, the president chose to go with somebody he really trusted. And he rejected that advice. And he chose Director Clancy as his new leader for this agency. Clancy, who has had 27 years in this agency and is friends with a lot of the people we're talking about tonight and friends with Connolly, has served with him, we are seeing now the first test for the new director.
And he seems to be taking it very seriously by basically saying, my agency can't investigate this independently. I have to have an inspector general outside of these walls look into what happened here.
BLITZER: And it follows that hugely embarrassing, potentially very dangerous development, when there was a fence-jumper.
We're showing our viewers, reminding them on the North Lawn of the White House, someone jumped over the fence from Pennsylvania Avenue, not only got onto the lawn, the North Lawn of the White House, but actually ran inside the North Portico over there and got all the way to the East Room of the White House.
It is pretty shocking, when you think about it. And this latest incident that you are reporting on, Carol, let me just be precise. I used to cover the White House. I'm pretty familiar with what the Secret Service does over there. The guys, the Secret Service agents who allegedly drove into this barrier, allegedly being intoxicated or whatever, the uniformed Secret Service officers there, lower-ranking types, they wanted a sobriety test to be done, but higher-ranking officials in the Secret Service said, no sobriety test, just sent them home?
Is that what you understand happened?
LEONNIG: So, the investigation is by no means anywhere near finished.
It has barely started. So, we don't know exactly what happened. But our sources have said to us that the uniformed officers believed these two individuals very likely to be -- have been drinking. And that's a violation of being in a government car for the Secret Service, and that they were told to stand down when they were talking about a test and talking about potentially stopping them and writing up a report.
And we just don't know until the investigation is complete what really happened, who ordered what, who told who to stand down. We just know that this is what the Secret Service is confirming, that they have gotten these allegations and they're taking it seriously.
BLITZER: Carol Leonnig broke the story in "The Washington Post."
Carol, thanks very much for joining us.
We will stay on top of this story as well.
Once again, we are standing by for a live news conference from Ferguson, Missouri. The police chief there has resigned. We will go there live as soon as it begins.
BLITZER: We're standing by for a news conference. There you see live pictures coming in from Ferguson, Missouri.
We're following the breaking news, the resignation of the police chief there, Thomas Jackson. The latest city official to step down following a blistering Justice Department report on the city's treatment of African-Americans.
As we await the start of the news conference, let's bring in our panel. Joining us once again, the president and CEO of the NAACP, Cornell William Brooks. He's back with us, along with community activist John Gaskin; the St. Louis city alderman, Antonio French; our CNN anchor, Don Lemon; and our CNN law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes.
Don Lemon, I understand you got a statement from the police chief? Is that right?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I have. And it's just a remark. I've been texting with him all day and really throughout the week, trying to figure out if he's going to resign and what he's going to do. And he talked to me today about -- at least texted me today about what was happening. He was a bit cagey but finally towards the end, he said, "I am resigning." And obviously, we know he did go on to resign.
And I said, "Well, what do you have to say? Do you have a quote? Is there something you can give me?"
And he said, "Don, I am encouraged by the final paragraph conclusion of the DOJ report." He says, "We agree that Ferguson can do the tough work to see this through and emerge the best small town it can be." And he goes, "How is that?"
I said, "That's perfect for a statement. If you'd like to say more, then, I'll certainly take it."
But earlier when I was on CNN, I said, you know, going forward, this police chief stepping down, how he does it can set the precedent for what is to come, whether this is a positive move or whether it is met by resistance. And I am encouraged to see that he is saying, "I will help out" and that he is, you know, seemingly stepping down in a positive manner.
BLITZER: What do you think, Antonio, Antonio French? You're a St. Louis city alderman. What's your reaction to what's going on over there in neighboring Ferguson?
ANTONIO FRENCH, ST. LOUIS ALDERMAN: Well, I think the resignation both of the chief and the city manager, frankly, were long overdue. In the case of the chief, many of us have been calling for his resignation for many months. But in light of what we saw and what we read in the DOJ report, it really was just a matter of time.
And in fact, the resignation of the chief and the city manager are just the first of two -- many, many steps that must be taken in order for Ferguson to turn itself around and for this community to begin healing.
BLITZER: Are you calling for the resignation of the mayor?
FRENCH: I think it would be helpful. But in the system of government that Ferguson has, the mayor is really just kind of a figurehead position, a part-time position. He's paid a couple of hundred bucks. It's really the city manager that runs city government.
And so many of those things that were outlined in the DOJ report really fell under the responsibility of the city manager and the police chief.
That being said, there are statements that the chief -- I'm sorry, the mayor made over the last few months, especially in August, that I think kind of made the situation worse, and he should probably step aside, as well.
BLITZER: John Gaskin, you've been watching this from the very, very beginning over there. You know the city manager now stepping down, John. He said that he respected the work of the Department of Justice, the work that they did but that his office, in his words -- and this is a quote. "They have never instructed the police department to target African-Americans. No falsified charges to administer fines," he says, "on the backs of the poor. Any interferences of that type from the report are simply false."
Now, you've taken a close look. What's the reaction, John Gaskin, to all of this?
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, Wolf, as the old saying goes, silence gives consent. To continue to allow that to happen, for it to happen on his watch, as Antonio just mentioned in municipalities, the city manager had such a critical role when it comes to the management of revenue, especially those that are up under his leadership.
So to allow that to go on under his leadership is unacceptable. And he did the right thing to step down. I think they're moving in the right direction doing that. And I think the mayor should step down.
You know, earlier this year or back in August he said that he think that the city of Ferguson had a racial problem. Well, we obviously saw that on international television, that it does.
And so to be the mayor of a city that small and not realize that there's racial tension there and there are so many underlying (ph) issues, to not be wise enough to admit that and to deal with those issues in the way that he should is unacceptable.
I thought that the police chief was going to resign last week along with the mayor with the press conference that we saw right here on your show last week. So this -- this is not really a surprise, but it's long overdue.
BLITZER: Yes. The mayor says he's not planning on resigning. The police chief has resigned. The lieutenant colonel, Al Eickhoff, will assume the duties as acting chief of police while the city of Ferguson undertakes what's described as a nationwide search for a new chief of police.
Tom Fuentes, you're a former FBI assistant director. Is it time to do in Ferguson what was done in neighboring Jennings, Missouri, basically dissolve the peace -- police force there?
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think that people that ask for that should be careful what they ask for. Because that means there will be no more local control over the policing of that town. If it goes to St. Louis County, then they'll have to contact the chief of St. Louis County Sheriff's Office to determine what kind of policing. So the efforts of community policing, I think, are going to be very difficult.
What I would hope is that the community and the police department work together. And, you know, the unfortunate thing is that this mayor was elected in 2011 with 11.7 percent of the eligible voters of Ferguson coming out to vote.
So what I would hope is that the people work to take control of their own city, to get the people in there who will represent them and be what they want in terms of a government, in terms of a police department. I think giving the police department away to the sheriff's office, I don't think is the right answer.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to stand by for the start of his news conference in Ferguson, Missouri. Much more right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're standing by for a news conference from Ferguson, Missouri, on the breaking news we've been following. There are some live pictures. Some resignation of the police chief in Ferguson, Thomas Jackson, the latest city official to step down following a blistering U.S. Justice Department report on the treatment by the city of African-Americans.
We're also looking, by the way, at live pictures. There you see it right now from Madison, Wisconsin, the protest march over the police shooting of a 19-year-old unarmed teenager, Tony Robinson. We're following this story, as well.
We've got our analysts, our newsmakers all standing by. We'll go to the news conference live once it begins. We expect to hear from the mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles. Looks like they're getting ready to bring in the mayor momentarily.
Cornell William Brooks is still with us. He's the CEO of the NAACP.
What would you like to hear the mayor say?
BROOKS: I'd like to hear the mayor say that he recognizes and appreciates the degree of harm that has been imposed on the citizenry of Ferguson, that he takes responsibility for what the Justice Department uncovered in terms of unconstitutional, unlawful conduct in terms of federal and undoubtedly state law. And that he is committed to reform.
One of the best ways to demonstrate that commitment to reform is to step down, because there is new reason to believe, given what we've seen over the course of undoubtedly years, that he's in the position to lead reform effort.
BLITZER: Sunny Hostin is our legal analyst, former federal prosecutor. She's anxious to hear what the mayor has to say.
Sunny, what do you want him to say?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. You know, I think it would be appropriate for the mayor to resign. I had predicted his resignation, as well as the resignation of the police chief.
You know, the town of Ferguson really, at this point, needs leadership. And I think it needs fresh leadership, especially because we did hear Mayor Knowles say that there was no racial divide in Ferguson, that Ferguson had transitioned from being a predominantly white middle-class neighborhood to being a predominantly African- American middle-class neighborhood without problems. He actually even said that Ferguson was sort of the example of how do that well.
And so given the fact that he seemed to either have been in total -- I don't know, disbelief that anything was going on or perhaps ignoring it, I think certainly he is not the appropriate person to be a leader.
I also want to mention, Wolf, that we've talked a lot about the Department of Justice report and the 26 recommendations that the Department of Justice made. I think we should also make it clear that, you know, recommendations is a very nice way of the Department of Justice saying, "If you do not agree to make these changes in addition to other changes, we will sue you."
And so I think we will see more resignations. We will see an -- just a wholesale reform of the police department and the city. And quite frankly, I don't know that the police department can survive that kind of reform. Because that kind of reform costs money. And we know that the city cannot get that money by, you know, ticketing and policing, for profit, the citizens.
And so I think what we will really see is perhaps a merging of police departments. I don't believe that we will see a Ferguson stand-alone police department.
BLITZER: We're standing by for the start of the news conference. The mayor, James Knowles, we expect him to come and make a statement. The last time he did it, he didn't answer reporters' questions. We'll see if he does this time.
The other picture we're showing you from Madison, Wisconsin, is where there's a demonstration under way right now protesting the shooting death by a police officer of 19-year-old Tony Robinson. So, we're watching that story as well.
Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst, is joining us.
Jeffrey, as far as I can tell, correct me if I'm wrong, there's been a lot of accusations of wrongdoing, of racist behavior, awful e- mails, bad judgment, if you will, in Ferguson. But no one has been accused of any crime. A lot of resignations so far. The police chief resigning today.
But no one has really been accused of a crime, right?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I guess, you know, when you ask the question that way, it reminds me of George W. Bush's famous line, the soft bigotry of low expectations. You know, the fact that police officers and government officials have not yet been accused of a crime, that's a pretty low bar for them to hop over to do their jobs. I mean, I think the record of this police department is appalling, is a disgrace. And these people should have been gone a long time ago.
I disagree with tom in that I think this department should be abolished. I don't think it's a problem for the community.
You know, the whole St. Louis area has way too many police departments that exist mostly to support themselves and not the community. So, the idea that this police department and these officials deserve any credit at all for leaving before the Justice Department kicks them out is, I think, misguided. BLITZER: John Gaskin, you are a young community activist. You
live in that part of the country. What are your friends, your associates, our young community activists, what do they want to see happen?
JOHN GASKIN, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, they want to see some real sincere reforms. They want to see people that police the community sincerely and not for profit. They want to see police officers that care about their well-being and don't necessarily care about keeping their jobs because of quotas for pulling people over.
For far too long, as Jeffrey Toobin has mentioned, you have 80 something municipalities here in St. Louis County and they are obviously not in existence to police communities and make sure that they are safe. They are there because they are self-serving.
To help keep revenue up for those municipalities so they can continue to stay in business. So many young people are calling on these reforms so that there is better policing within our communities.
The activists that you see out with the protests and the civil disobedience are not anti-police. They are merely for good policing and policing that is safe and policing that is fair. No one is asking that African-Americans receive special treatment. We're simply asking that these street-side executions that we saw in Madison stop here in this country.
BLITZER: Don Lemon, you spent a lot of time there in Ferguson covering the stories in the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson. These resignations that are taking place right now, is it sort of like at least some sort of justice that the Brown family might feel? We wouldn't know about the racist behavior that's documented in that U.S. Department report presumably if it had not been for that incident.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. You know, wolf, that's a tough one. Having lost a loved one, I don't know what would make up for that. I think not for the Brown family, because if we look at what the Justice Department found, what the grand jury found, they found that Darren Wilson was -- they exonerated him. They found that, you know, the "hands up, don't shoot", evidence shows that was -- that didn't happen.
So, in that case for Brown family, I don't think that this -- that this offers any sort of consolation. For community, for the broader community I think that it does because it's what they have been saying all along. There's a disconnect between -- with the police department and members of the community. That members of the community are only interactions with police officers negatively ones when they are coming in as the overseers, when, you know, more than -- when the majority of the community is African-American and community with 21,000 people and only three officers are African-American.
But I do want -- I'm not a legal person. But I want to comment on your question that you asked Jeffrey about no one violated the law. According to the Justice Department report, the entire police department violated at least the Constitution by stopping people illegally. I think it says that they violated the -- our investigations show the Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause and using unreasonable force against them. That seems like some breaking of the law to me at least.
BLITZER: Yes. But no one has been charged yet, at least yet with a crime.
BLITZER: That was the point I was trying to make. I think Jeffrey is right. That's a pretty low bar for what we know.
Antonio French, we're awaiting the mayor, he's supposed to walk in shortly, James Knowles. He's going to be making a statement.
I spoke earlier with Benjamin Crump. He's the attorney for Michael Brown's family. He said the family was relieved about the Justice Department report, but would expect -- they weren't yet ready to talk about any resignation of the mayor there. They are obviously relieved by the resignation of the police chief. They want to wait and see.
That's understandable, isn't it?
ANTONIO FRENCH, ST. LOUIS CITY ALDERMAN: Yes, I think so. At best, the DOJ report provides some hope of transformations to come. And the removing of these few individuals, so far I think we have five individual who have been removed in Ferguson is a small step but really we want to see transformations of the systems that have been allowed to exist for too long. That's what the DOJ report outlines -- the systems in place, not just individual actions.
And so, I hope the mayor acknowledges that there are systems in place in Ferguson and beyond that prey on African-Americans, that prey or poor people. This isn't just the lone action of a few individuals.
BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks, you're the president/CEO of the NAACP.
Ferguson, you don't believe it's simply some sort of an isolated incident. There's other examples of this kind of stuff happening all over the country. Is that your sense?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: Absolutely. The report makes clear that there were 16 points of contact between the municipal courts, the police department and the citizens. At every point you found these racial disparities, wild racial disparities. When you look at police departments all across the country, the challenge the municipal finds, the excessive use of force, this is not uncommon.
The fact is we have models of policing that protect neither the community nor police officers nor assist in the prosecution of crime. This is a fundamental program, a national program and not isolated to Ferguson.
BLITZER: All right.
BROOKS: If you talk to anyone in city government, I should say in state government who is honest, they'll say that this is not isolated to Ferguson in terms of Missouri or the country.
BLITZER: All right.
Mr. Brooks, hold on for a moment. I want to explain what we're seeing now.
This is at the city municipal building. Some protesters have showed up. They are taking pictures of the protesters. That's why apparently there has been this delay in the arrival of the Mayor James Knowles getting ready to make a statement. We'll standby patiently.
We don't know all the details of the protests that are going on, but obviously there's a lot of concern in the aftermath of what is happened in Ferguson.
Tom Fuentes, you're former assistant director of the FBI. They've got some serious problems over there. This is a community about 70 percent African-American, largely white police force. They're now looking for a new police chief. They've got an acting police chief. They have to get their act together and they got to do it quickly. Otherwise, they're going to dissolve that whole police force and bring in outside law enforcement.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I agree. Back to Jeffrey's point about the recommendation to dissolve it, I would like to hear what the people of Jennings, the neighboring where that did occur, what they think now. Are they satisfied with the policing they have since they dissolve their police department? How did it work there? I don't think we've heard enough about that as an example. If that worked well and the people are happy with that, I could be inclined to change my mind and support it.
BLITZER: It's happened in other cities. How long does it usually take for a city to get its act together and move on?
FUENTES: Many places that I'm familiar with, it was strictly a budget issue. They couldn't afford the policing anymore, and they went ahead and just dissolve the police department.
BLITZER: All right. Hold on a minute. Here is the mayor. He's just walked in -- James Knowles.
MAYOR JAMES KNOWLES, FERGUSON, MISSOURI: Good afternoon.
The city of Ferguson and Police Chief Thomas Jackson have agreed to a mutual separation, which involves the police chief's resignation from the city of Ferguson. The chief's resignation is effective March 19th, 2015.
This was a mutual decision both by the chief of police and the city's administration. Chief Jackson will receive a severance payment with health insurance for one year. Lieutenant Colonel Al Eickhoff will assume the duties as acting chief of police effective Thursday, March 19th, 2015.
In addition to our search for a new city manager, we'll also begin conducting a nationwide search for a new police chief. As you are aware, one week ago today, the city of Ferguson received its final report from the Department of Justice. The city has been committed and looking to need to be committed to addressing each item outlined in the report.
It is the city council's goal to continue to be transparent as we strive to once again become a vibrant and diverse community.
On the final note, I would like to say this -- to Ferguson residents, business owners and to the entire country, the city of Ferguson looks to become an example of how a community can move forward in the face of adversity. We are committed to keeping our police department and having one that exhibits the highest degree of professionalism and fairness.
I'll open it up for questions.
REPORTER: How much is that severance package?
KNOWLES: I believe his annual salary is 96,000, somewhere in that range. It's roughly $100,000. Right.
REPORTER: What can you tell us about the acting police chief? Has he had much interaction with the residents of Ferguson?
KNOWLES: Lieutenant Colonel Eickhoff is new, rather new to the city of Ferguson. He did start in August, right before the events in August. Lieutenant Colonel Eickhoff formerly was in St. Louis County.
I know that he has, obviously, over the last six months spent a great deal of time working with the people of Ferguson and also our police department. Our officers seem to have a high degree of respect for the professionalism and his abilities. We're blessed at this point to have him able to take the reins while we search for a new police chief.
REPORTER: Mayor, how long will you be discussing with Chief Jackson the terms of his departure and does a year severance for a five-year employee seem like a lot to you?
KNOWLES: Some of those conversations are employee discussions and personnel discussions, I think that it's fair to say that in many executive level, private industries you would get similar treatment.
REPORTER: Is he permitted to stay until the Justice Department came in, can you tell us a little bit about (INAUDIBLE) did he voluntarily say he's going to leave (INAUDIBLE)?
KNOWLES: Sure. So, I mean, I think we've all been very candid for the last several months that we have explored every option, the city manager, myself, the chief, as far as what would be the best way forward, how we can lessen the frustration during the unrest, how we can try to bring the community forward -- bring this community together so that we can move forward.
The chief is the kind of honorable man that you don't have to go to. He comes to you when he knows that this is something that we have to seriously discuss. So, after a lot of soul searching and it's very hard for him to leave and us to have him leave, he felt it was the best way forward doing this obviously not only for the city, but also for the men and women who served under him in the police department because he is and he has been committed to making sure that the city of Ferguson keeps the police department. The city of Ferguson has been committed to that as well.
So, that was obviously a lot of it were kind of his thought process and when he decided to make an exit.
KNOWLES: Those are recommendations from the Justice Department. Sure. So, the city is looking at those. We are engaging consultants to tell us what that price tag might be and what are those -- try to tell us what is realistically what we need to be working on. We'll keep all that in mind as we make decisions going forward.
KNOWLES: We've already engaged several experts on these issues. Rough estimates and things going forward I would say that we believe that it's something that we can do.
BLITZER: We're going to continue our coverage. Brianna Keilar filling in for Erin Burnett picks up our coverage right now.