After Freddie Gray Death, U.S. Starts Civil Rights Probe of Baltimore Police

Mark Puente, Baltimore Sun, May 8, 2015

In the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in police custody, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Friday that the Department of Justice will launch a full-scale civil rights investigation into Baltimore’s police.

“This investigation will begin immediately,” Lynch said, adding that investigators will examine whether police violated the constitution and the community’s civil rights. “Our goal is to work with the community, public officials and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore.”

The community’s mistrust with the police didn’t develop over night, and will take time to mend the fractured relationship, Lynch said. “We have watched as Baltimore has struggled with issues that face cities across our country today,” she said.

Her announcement came after local officials and community leaders pressed the Justice Department to launch an inquiry similar to investigations into police departments in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland that examined whether officers engaged in patterns of excessive force. In both of those cities, unrest erupted after unarmed black people were killed by police.


The new probe comes seven months after a Baltimore Sun investigation found that the city had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in court judgments and settlements in lawsuits alleging brutality and other misconduct. The Sun also found that dozens of black residents received battered faces and broken bones during questionable arrests. In nearly all of the cases, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the suspects.

While in Baltimore, Lynch said the Justice Department might need to go beyond the voluntary, collaborative review of use of force by city police that began in October. That review was announced five days after The Sun published its first of two stories into police abuses.

On Friday, Lynch said the collaborative review will not be enough to bring the community and police force together. The collaborative review, she said, will continue as technical assistance to help the department. The findings will be folded into the civil rights investigation and not released, she added.

The tougher civil rights probes examine whether police departments have a history of discrimination or using force beyond standard guidelines, and can lead to years of court monitoring.

In such investigations, Justice Department officials gather information from community members, interview officers and other local authorities, and observe officers’ work and review documents. But they do not assess individual cases for potential criminal violations.

The Justice Department said the new probe is separate from the agency’s criminal civil rights investigation into Gray’s death.

The federal agency’s civil rights division has launched such broad probes into 20 police departments in the past six years. {snip}


After Lynch’s announcement Friday, Rawlings-Blake issued a statement saying she was “pleased the Department of Justice has agreed to my request.”

“Our city is making progress in repairing the fractured relationship between police and community, but bolder reforms are needed and we will not shy away from taking on these challenges,” Rawlings-Blake said. “The problems we are confronting in Baltimore are not unique to our city. They did not occur overnight and it will take time for Baltimore to heal and move forward.”


As melees erupted in Baltimore during Lynch’s first day on the job, she said the nation has seen the “tragic loss of a young man’s life and a peaceful-protest movement coalesce to express the concern of a beleaguered community. We have seen brave officers upholding the right to peaceful protests while also sustaining serious injuries themselves in the “city’s unfortunate foray into violence.”



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