The embattled chief of the Ferguson, Mo. police department has resigned, effective next week, as part of a “mutual separation” between him and the city, the Ferguson council said Wednesday. Tom Jackson’s resignation, which is effective next Thursday, is the latest leadership shakeup in the city following a scalding federal probe into its police force and court system. Lt. Col. Al Eickhoff will serve as acting chief, and the city will begin a “nationwide search” for a new police leader, the city said in a statement. The announcement comes one week after a Department of Justice report, prompted by the shooting of an unarmed black teenager and subsequent public protests, found widespread targeting of African-Americans in the city, and one day after the city’s manager stepped down amid allegations of racial bias in the city’s municipal court. Jackson will receive one year of his roughly $96,000 annual salary and health coverage.
Several text and phone messages left with Mayor James Knowles III and Jackson by The Associated Press were not returned. But Jackson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he felt it was time for the city to move on. “I believe this is the appropriate thing to do at this time,” Jackson said. “This city needs to move forward without any distractions.”
During a 12-minute news conference, Knowles said Jackson resigned after “a lot of soul-searching” about how the community could heal from the racial unrest stemming from the fatal shooting last summer. “The chief is the kind of honorable man you don’t have to go to,” Knowles said. “He comes to you when he knows that this is something we have to seriously discuss.”
The police chief’s resignation was welcomed by state lawmakers who represent Ferguson. “There would be a lot of people that would approve of that,” said Democratic state Rep. Sharon Pace, who represents the neighborhood where Michael Brown was shot. Jackson oversaw the Ferguson force for nearly five years before the shooting that stirred months of unrest across the St. Louis region and drew global attention to the predominantly black city of 21,000.
He becomes the sixth employee to resign or be fired after the U.S. Department of Justice last week issued a report that cleared Officer Darren Wilson of civil rights charges in the shooting but found a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias in the city police department. His handling of the situation drew wide criticism from the outset, both for the aggressive police response to protesters and for his agency’s erratic and infrequent releases of key information.
Attorney General Chris Koster and U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill were among those working behind the scenes to get him to resign, but Jackson stood firm. Since the Aug. 9 shooting, he has spoken of a desire to work with community members and described efforts to bolster minority hiring in a department that had just three black officers at the time of Brown’s death. But he struggled to manage a local crisis that turned into an international event and explain his decision-making at news conferences disrupted by angry protesters and grieving community members.
Then the Justice Department issued its report, which found that Ferguson’s police and court systems functioned as a money-making enterprise rather than one meant to ensure public safety. The report found black drivers in Ferguson were more than twice as likely as others to be searched during routine traffic stops and more likely to face excessive force from police, often during unwarranted stops. Investigators also noted that Ferguson was counting on revenues from fines and fees to generate nearly a quarter of its total $13.3 million budget for the 2015 fiscal year. Many residents ended up in jail after missing court dates or failing to pay fines for minor violations. The report also uncovered evidence that three employees — a court clerk and two police officers — had sent racist emails. The clerk was fired last week and two officers resigned. The judge who oversaw the court system also resigned. The Associated Press contributed to this report.