The second-highest ranking commander in the beleaguered police department of Ferguson, Missouri, was one of two veteran officers to resign on Friday over racist emails uncovered by federal investigators.
Cornel West (second from right) speaks to Ferguson police captain Rick Henke as clergy confront officers in front of the Ferguson police department in October. Photograph: Robert Cohen/Post-Dispatch/Polaris
Captain Rick Henke stepped down from his job together with Sergeant William Mudd, a fellow long-serving officer who was awarded the Medal of Valor more than 20 years ago, a spokesperson for the city confirmed on Friday.
Their departures came as Eric Holder, the US attorney general, said he was prepared to demand the dismantling of Ferguson’s entire police department if required for reforms ordered by his department this week in a scathing report on the city’s criminal justice system.
Speaking to a pool reporter at Andrews air force base in Maryland on Friday, Holder said an “entirely new structure” was needed in Ferguson. Asked whether that included closing the police force, he said: “If that’s what’s necessary, we’re prepared to do that.”
The police resignations also followed Wednesday’s firing of Mary Ann Twitty, Ferguson’s municipal court clerk, after she, too, was ensnared in the racist email scandal. Justice Department investigators detailed seven examples of offensive messages they found during searches of tens of thousands of official documents.
Both police officers were involved in policing the months of protests that erupted following the fatal shooting by a white officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in August last year.
That unrest prompted Holder to open the inquiry into the in the St Louis suburb’s police and courts system. A second Justice Department inquiry that concluded simultaneously this week decided to bring no federal civil-rights charges against Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown.
Mudd, 64, was linked to an email sent in November 2008 which suggested Barack Obama “would not be president for very long because ‘what black man holds a steady job for four years?’,” according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch, which first reported the officers’ names.
Henke, 59, was said to have been associated with an email sent in May 2011 that stated: “An African American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers’.”
A woman reached by telephone at Mudd’s home address on Friday evening said: “We have no comment about anything.” Henke could not be reached for comment.
Figures released by Ferguson under open records laws last year stated that Henke, who joined the police force in July 1978, was paid $87,555 a year. This was more than any other officer except Chief Thomas Jackson. Henke was also listed as second in line to Jackson on the police department’s website.
Mudd, who was hired in July 1976, was paid $70,741 a year. He is listed as a 1993 recipient of the Medal of Valor, Missouri’s most prestigious honour for police officers. The medal is awarded for officers showing “exceptional courage, extraordinary decisiveness and presence of mind, and unusual swiftness of action, regardless of his or her personal safety, in the attempt to save or protect human life”.
Holder said in his remarks on Friday that he had been “surprised by what I found” in the inquiry. “I was shocked towards the end by the numbers that we saw, and the breadth of the practices that we uncovered,” he said.
The attorney general described the impact of the city’s practices as “just appalling”.