Baltimore Asks Justice Department For Civil Rights Investigation Into Police, An Inquiry That Could Take Months
Just days after the state's attorney filed charges against the six Baltimore officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has asked the Justice Department for a civil rights investigation into Baltimore's police department. The probe, she said at a Wednesday news conference, would determine whether there was a pattern of discrimination and abuse of power in city police officers' practices. Gray sustained serious spinal injuries while in police custody on April 12. The 25-year-old fell into a coma and died a week later.
According to The New York Times, the Justice Department had considered an investigation into Baltimore for years, but decided to not pursue one since the city indicated it would make changes on its own. The inquiry could take several months to a year as the department looks at a variety of practices, such as hiring, arrests, training procedures, and incidents of force. The Justice Department is already conducting an investigation into Gray's death separate from the Baltimore police's findings that were announced last week.
At the press conference, Rawlings-Blake said she would do whatever it took to reform the city's police department.
We all know that Baltimore continues to have a fractured relationship between the police and the community. We have to have a foundation of trust, and I believe that we need the assistance of the Department of Justice and the civil rights investigation to shore up that foundation, which is weak right now in this city.
As the National Guard was called during last Monday's riots, Rawlings-Blake told reporters, "Nobody wants the Department of Justice to come in here and take over our city." But with public trust at a low, the mayor said she would allow a federal inquiry help rebuild ties with the community. In a letter to newly instated Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Rawlings-Blake wrote:
I am determined not to allow a small handful of bad actors to tarnish the reputation of the overwhelming majority of police officers who are acting with honor and distinction.
A Justice Department spokeswoman told The Baltimore Sun Lynch had received the call and would consider it. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan gave his support, saying the move was a "step in the right direction." Also in support were the city's police union and City Council president. Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, whose position is likely to be put under investigation should a federal inquiry take place, has not yet spoken on Rawlings-Blake's request.
This wouldn't be the first time the DOJ has stepped in to review a city's judicial system. According to The New York Times, the federal agency has held similar probes in 20 cities during the past six years. The Justice Department conducted an investigation into Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was killed by white police officer Darren Wilson last August. In that report, the DOJ determined there was racial bias in the city's arrests and punishments that targeted the primarily poor black community.
The DOJ also concluded a civil rights investigation into the Cleveland Police Department in December after officers fatally shot Tamir Rice after mistaking the 12-year-old's toy gun for a real firearm. Then-Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department determined a pattern of "unreasonable and unnecessary use of force" by Cleveland police. Cheers rang out when Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said her office would pursue charges against the six officers involved in Gray's death, and perhaps a Justice Department step-in will further help the city that's still healing from a night of riots and violence.
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