U.S. Weighs Civil-Rights Probe of Baltimore Police Practices

Updated on

The U.S. Justice Department said it may open a civil-rights investigation of the Baltimore police, a week after the city was rocked by riots following the death of a black man who was injured while in police custody.

The city’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, on Wednesday called for a federal inquiry into the police department’s practices and whether there are patterns of misconduct, including discriminatory policing and improper searches.

The Justice Department said in a statement that Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who visited Baltimore on Tuesday, was “actively considering that option in light of what she heard from law enforcement, city officials, and community, faith and youth leaders.”

The Justice Department, which has already been conducting a lower-level review of the city’s police force, typically launches full-scale civil rights investigations when requested to do so by a top local official. Such investigations most often result in settlements to address problems, though the department can also file a federal lawsuit to seek changes.

Rawlings-Blake imposed a curfew last week and Maryland National Guard troops were brought in to respond to riots that erupted after the April 27 funeral of Freddie Gray, 25, who died on April 19 after suffering spinal-cord injuries while in police custody. The city’s top prosecutor announced criminal charges on May 1 against six officers in connection with Gray’s arrest, a move that helped ease tensions.

Lynch Visit

In a letter to Lynch, who was sworn in last week as attorney general, the mayor said a Justice Department inquiry would help restore the public’s trust in the police department.

Lynch and her top civil-rights attorneys spent much of Tuesday in Baltimore, meeting with Gray’s family, community leaders and police officials. Lynch told a group of activists that “you all know there’s a lot of work to be done,” according to a pool report of her visit. “All of you have worked so hard on these issues. I’m here to listen and meet with young people.”

Later, Lynch said that “what I heard was both instructive and constructive.”

Ferguson Inquiry

The Justice Department has initiated 21 civil-rights investigations of police departments since 2009, examining matters ranging from the treatment of prisoners to complaints of excessive force. In March, it released the results of a probe that found the Ferguson, Missouri, police department routinely targeted black residents for questioning, search and arrest.

The investigation came in response to the fatal shooting in August of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white Ferguson police officer. The killing and the decision by a local grand jury not to charge the officer sparked protests and riots. In a separate report, the Justice Department concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to sustain civil rights charges against the officer, Darren Wilson.

For more, read this QuickTake: Racial Profiling

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE