Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson won a commendation in a Town Council ceremony, only months before shooting and killing unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown.
According to officials interviewed by the Washington Post, Wilson became a cop in 2009, when he joined a nearly all-white, 45-member task force that patrolled Jennings, Missouri. The Washington Post summarized this department as “not an ideal place to learn how to police.”
This tiny, impoverished city of 14,000 was 89% African-American, with a disproportionate number of Caucasian officers like Wilson.
Perhaps most importantly, in terms of relevance to this case, the Police Department had been accused of using excessive force against residents in a disturbing number of incidents.
Rodney Epps, an African American city council member explained the situation, saying “you’re dealing with white cops, and they don’t know how to address black people.
“The straw that broke the camel’s back, an officer shot at a female. She was stopped for a traffic violation. She had a child in the back [of the] car and was probably worried about getting locked up. And this officer chased her down Highway 70, past city limits, and took a shot at her. Just ridiculous.”
All of these incidents of police brutality against the nearly-all African American residents led to lawsuit after lawsuit being filed against officers for using unnecessary force, Stichnote explained.
Cassandra Fuller sued the department after a Jennings police officer beat her back in June 2009. She was on her own porch at the time and had merely cracked a joke that the officer didn’t like.
What kind of joke? Was she making fun of the officer? Not that it would matter, but no, she was making a joke about her van.
The officer had responded to a hit and run. He asked her to move her van, but she replied: “It don’t run. You can take it home with you if you want.”
The cop threw her off the porch, knocked her down and kicked her in the stomach. This is where Officer Darren Wilson learned to be a cop.
Lt. Jeff Fuesting said: “There was a disconnect between the community and the police department. There were just too many instances of police tactics which put the credibility of the police department in jeopardy. Complaints against officers. There was a communication breakdown between the police and the community. There were allegations involving use of force that raised questions.”
By 2011, the city council voted 6-1 to fire all of the officers in the department and hire a completely new set of cops that they felt would not be brutal and discriminatory. One of those officers fired was Officer Darren Wilson.