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Ferguson Police Department needs 'wholesale change,' Holder says

Ferguson Police Department needs 'wholesale change,' Holder says
U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. speaks at the sixth annual Washington Ideas Forum in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / Associated Press)

Outgoing Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday that there was an obvious need for "wholesale change" in the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department.

The Justice Department is conducting a broad investigation into the practices of the Police Department following the Aug. 9 fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown. That investigation focuses on alleged patterns of racial discrimination and on how officers in the predominantly white department use force and search and arrest suspects.

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Local and federal authorities are also continuing to investigate the shooting of Brown by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson to determine whether to pursue criminal charges. A St. Louis County grand jury is expected to decide by mid-November whether to indict Wilson.

In a question-and-answer session with a newspaper columnist at the Washington Ideas Forum, Holder would not say what the reforms should be or discuss potential leadership changes at the department. But he did say, "I think it's pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate."

A government official confirmed Wednesday that there were discussions among Missouri officials about having Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson step down as part of effort to change the department. The official was not authorized to discuss those talks publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Police Department posted on its Twitter account that Jackson had not resigned and had not been asked to resign.

Holder, who last month said he would resign as attorney general as soon as a successor is confirmed, was also asked about his 2009 characterization of the country as a "nation of cowards" when it comes to racial matters. He said that he stood by those remarks and that the country was "still reluctant to talk about issues of race" and did so only during "episodic cases."

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, Holder said, "As a person who tried to make the country better and used the power of his office to raise issues that too often were not addressed."

He was also asked to name one decision he has made that he regrets. He singled out a Justice Department leak investigation in which emails from a Fox News journalist were secretly obtained. An affidavit in that case labeled the journalist, James Rosen, as a "co-conspirator" with the State Department expert who ultimately pleaded guilty to passing along classified information. Holder said that "there were ways in which that could have been done differently, better."

That case, along with a separate national security leak investigation in which telephone records of Associated Press reporters and editors were secretly seized, led the Justice Department to announce new guidelines for media leak cases.

The session was briefly interrupted by a heckler who demanded to know when the Justice Department would "finally prosecute the torturers," an apparent reference to the CIA's interrogation of terrorism suspects. A department investigation of the matter closed without any prosecutions.

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