Judicial Watch announced today that on October 30, it obtained Department of Justice (DOJ) records revealing that the Obama administration sent eight Community Relations Service (CRS) agents to Ferguson, Missouri, at the request of the NAACP immediately following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The DOJ contingent included CRS Director Grande Lum and Deputy Director Gilbert Moore.
Set up under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the secretive CRS, whose agents are required by law to “conduct their activities in confidence,” reportedly has greatly expanded its role under President Barack Obama. Though the agency claims to use “impartial mediation practices and conflict resolution procedures,” the documents obtained by Judicial Watch suggest that the unit deployed to Ferguson took an active role in working with those demanding the prosecution of police officer Wilson.
From the outset of the violence in Ferguson, the NAACP condemned police officers of “militarized tactics” in their attempts to restore order. The NAACP website chronicling the Ferguson riots says “Michael Brown did not deserve to die” and describes the police as “an invading army” and repeatedly expresses its “outrage over the violent response by police in Ferguson,” while demanding that “justice for Michael is served.”
The DOJ documents obtained by Judicial Watch came in response to an August 14, 2014, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the following:
Any and all records regarding, concerning, or related to the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. This request includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Any and all records of communication between any official or employee of the Community Relations Service and any other individual or entity regarding the shooting, subsequent public disturbances, and/or any actual or proposed response to the incident by the Community Relations Service.
- Any and all reports, assessments, briefing materials, or other documents produced by any official or employee of the Community Relations Service regarding the shooting and/or subsequent public disturbances.
- Any and all travel authorizations, vouchers, and related documents regarding travel by any official or employee of the Community Relations Service to Ferguson, Missouri or any other location pursuant to the office’s response to the incident.
Two and one-half months after the August FOIA request, the DOJ produced documents showing taxpayers were billed $15,000 on travel to send eight CRS agents (including the CRS Director and Deputy Director) to Ferguson between August 10 and September 3. The new documents show:
- The CRS had at least two “Conciliation Specialists,” Darryck Dean and Rita Valenciano, on the ground in Ferguson by the day after the shooting. (In 2007, Ms. Valenciano, who was then an advocate for illegal alien rights, helped lead an effort to remove Frances Semler from a Kansas City parks board because of Semler’s views against illegal immigration. Ms. Semler ultimately resigned.)
On August 29, Dean and Valenciano moderated a “community meeting” with the NAACP that, according to St. Louis Public Radio, “also served as platform to discuss the importance of voting in affecting change.”
- CRS went to Ferguson – within 24 hours of the incident – at the request of the NAACP. According to a Valenciano travel voucher, “The NAACP requested CRS assistance by email and phone”:
CRS traveled to Ferguson, MO on Sunday afternoon, August 10, 2014, in response to community tension based upon the shooting of an unarmed African American teenager on Saturday, August 9, 2014, by a Ferguson police officer. The community was outraged by the shooting and began gathering in front of the Ferguson Police Department and at the scene of the youth’s death. The NAACP requested CRS assistance by email and phone call on Sunday afternoon as crowds exceeded 400 in front of the police department. After a community vigil held on Sunday, which was attended by over one thousand people, segments of the crowd became unruly and rioting, looting and randam [sic] shootings occurred. CRS has met with the NAACP, spoken to the USA (MO – Eastern District) and the chiefs of police of St. Louis County and Ferguson, MO. CRS will continue to identify local African American community leaders to address concerns, ease community tensions and prevent further violence. (Case numbered TBD)
- CRS was present during at least one of the Ferguson demonstrations. An August 16 expense claim is for “rain ponchos for demonstration site.” August 16, 2014, was a day of terrible rioting in Ferguson.
- Several CRS vouchers state that immediately after the shooting, CRS personnel spoke with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, who would be responsible for any federal civil rights prosecution of Officer Wilson. According to the DOJ website, “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is responsible for the prosecution of federal crimes in the Eastern District of Missouri, including crimes relating to terrorism, fraud, public corruption, firearms, narcotics, child exploitation and human trafficking.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, CRS agents met with Brown’s family the following day after the fatal shooting. Ferguson mayor James Knowles told The Daily Caller that the federal agents were in his town training demonstrators on how best to participate in protests.
On August 20, Eric Holder met with the Brown family, telling them that his own run-ins with police had left him “angry and upset,” adding, “I am the attorney general of the United States, but I am also a black man.”
And the day after the midterm elections, President Obama held an unscheduled meeting with Ferguson protest leaders, telling them to “stay the course.”
“The CRS and the Justice Department under Eric Holder have shown little inclination to enforce the law in a race-neutral manner. Justice Department employees dropping everything to rush to the side of the far-left NAACP speaks volumes as to what CRS is up to,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Given Obama’s and Holder’s incendiary racial remarks on Ferguson and criticism of the police, no one is fooled by Justice Department protestations that its taxpayer-funded community organizers in Ferguson are neutral. It is no surprise that rioting worsened with increased involvement of the racially-biased Justice Department. The Justice Department has yet to comply with Freedom of Information Act law and provide all of the responsive documents about what it is up to in Ferguson. Disclosure is urgent and this new Holder cover-up must end – as there are grave concerns about more violence in response to the results of grand jury proceeding there.”
In July 2013, Judicial Watch released DOJ documents in response to local, state, and federal records requests revealing that the CRS was deployed to Sanford, Florida, following the Trayvon Martin shooting. CRS helped organize and manage rallies and protests against George Zimmerman. On April 15, 2012, during the height of the Sanford protests, the Orlando Sentinel quoted the Rev. Valarie Houston, pastor of Allen Chapel AME Church, a focal point for protestors, as saying “They were there for us,” after a March 20 meeting with CRS agents.