U.S. News

Ferguson city attorney steps down after criticism

(Reuters) - The city attorney for Ferguson, Missouri, who was criticized in a U.S. Justice Department report on policing in the town, said on Tuesday she is stepping down.

A protester wears tape over her mouth during a silent demonstration against what they say is police brutality after the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer, in St. Louis, Missouri March 14, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

Stephanie Karr, who had also served as city prosecutor until recently, said the decision to resign was hers alone, in a letter dated on May 23 that she provided to Reuters by email.

Ferguson will start looking for a new city attorney next week, the city said in a statement. The city contracts for legal services, so it will issue a request for proposals on June 1.

Ferguson became an international symbol of problems with race and policing in the United States when it was rocked by protests and riots in 2014 after white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown, and after a grand jury decided not bring charges against Wilson.

In the wake of the protests, the Justice Department investigated policing and court practices in Ferguson and found a widespread pattern of abuse and racism. The report said that the city imposed onerous fines for minor infractions, using the police department to generate revenue rather than to ensure public safety.

Among other findings, the report said that the city prosecutor, which it did not name, would retaliate against lawyers who tried to challenge charges against their clients.

Protesters had asked for her removal and city officials announced three weeks ago they were seeking a new city prosecutor.

Karr works for a private St. Louis firm, Curtis, Heinz, Garrett and O’Keefe, which has contracts with a number of local cities to provide representation and work as prosecutors.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said that Karr and other attorneys from the firm who are contracted to work for Ferguson continued to prosecute cases that the Justice Department cited as constitutional violations, such as “failure to comply” charges against protesters.

Karr declined to comment on that allegation.

Reporting by Fiona Ortiz in Chicago; Editing by Alistair Bell and Alan Crosby