Justice Department To Investigate Ferguson Police Department For Possible Civil Rights Violations

In a separate inquiry, the Department of Justice will look into possible civil rights violations made by the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb that became a site of unrest following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. According to The Washington Post, the Justice Department will announce the investigation of Ferguson's police forces as early as Thursday. The probe will be separate from the ongoing federal investigation of the death of Brown, who was unarmed when he was killed on Aug. 9 by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer.

The Justice Department's civil rights division will reportedly lead the inquiry, launched by Attorney General Eric Holder. The Washington Post reports that the probe will focus on a number of racially charged issues, such as profiling, use of excessive force and patterns of stops and arrests. The DoJ will not only investigate Ferguson police forces, but also other law enforcement departments in St. Louis County, though officials didn't reveal which forces or cities.

Holder made an unprecedented visit to Ferguson in August, during a time when protesters were tear gassed by local police forces almost on a nightly basis. While in Ferguson, the attorney general met with local leaders and members of the community, often in informal locations such as diners.

The attorney general promised at the time to bring change through "concrete action" to Ferguson and similar communities:

We are starting here a good dialogue. But the reality is the dialogue is not enough. We need concrete action to change things in this country. That’s what I have been trying to do. That’s what the President has been trying to do. We have a very active Civil Rights Division. I am proud of what these men and women have done. As they write about the legacy of the Obama administration, a lot of it is going to be about what the Civil Rights Division has done.
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Prior to his visit in mid-August, President Obama said Holder sent about 40 federal investigators to Ferguson to collect eyewitness testimonies and meet with local law enforcement officials. When meeting at the St. Louis FBI Field Office last month, Holder said the DoJ was doing something "very different" than the state of Missouri. "We are looking for violations of federal, criminal civil rights statutes," Holder said, adding that the federal investigation will have a "positive impact" on Ferguson residents.

In addition to the ongoing federal investigation of Brown's death, a county grand jury is also collecting evidence for a possible indictment of Wilson. The grand jury is still weighing the case to decide whether or not there's probable cause, and it might be another month before any charges are brought against Wilson.

According to an independent autopsy ordered by his family, Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head. He also had gunshot and graze wounds on his right arm. Pathologist Michael Baden said he couldn't "determine which witness is most consistent" from the wounds.

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