US Justice Department to close Ferguson probe, clear police officer who shot black teen: NYT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States Justice Department is about to close the investigation into the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, and clear the white police officer involved of any civil rights charges, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper quoted law enforcement officials as saying that federal prosecutors had begun work on a legal memo recommending no civil rights charges against the officer Darren Wilson after an FBI investigation found no evidence to support charges against him. The Justice Department declined to comment.

The agency is still conducting a probe into the Ferguson police force. A St Louis County grand jury decided last year not to prosecute officer Wilson.

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown last August led to months of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and galvanised critics of the treatment by police and the US criminal justice system of blacks and other minority groups.

A lawyer for Brown's family, Mr Benjamin Crump, said the family would wait for official word from the Justice Department on whether or not any charges will be filed against the police officer who shot and killed him. "The family won't address speculation from anonymous sources," Mr Crump said in a statement.

Mr Neil Bruntrager, an attorney for Mr Wilson, said Mr Wilson's lawyers had received no communications from the Justice Department and would not comment until there was a final determination. "We don't believe he has done anything that would merit any kind of a prosecution or any kind of civil rights claims and we are just awaiting the outcome like everybody else," Mr Bruntrager said in a telephone interview.

Mr Wilson, who said he was acting in self-defence when he fatally shot Brown, resigned from the Ferguson police force in November, citing threats against fellow officers after the grand jury decision.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said events in Ferguson had started a national debate on race, equality, economic opportunity and the criminal justice system.

But more needed to be done, he told lawmakers on Wednesday in his State of the State speech. "We need to support policies that foster racial understanding... and compassion," Mr Nixon said. "And we must recruit, train and certify professional law enforcement that reflects the diversity of the community it serves."

He said meaningful steps forward had been taken, and that US$2.5 million (S$3.32 million) would be spent to improve West Florissant Avenue, where several businesses were burned during the protests in late November.