US opens federal civil rights probe of Baltimore police
The US Department of Justice launched a federal civil rights probe Friday into whether police in Baltimore have systematically engaged in discriminatory actions, after the death of an African-American man in police custody.
The death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who suffered a serious spinal injury while in the back of a police van last month and died a week later, sparked violent unrest. Six police officers have been charged in connection with his arrest and death.
“The Department of Justice is opening an investigation into whether the Baltimore Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced, in one of her first acts since being sworn in on April 27 as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
“This investigation will begin immediately and will focus on allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers use excessive force including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing.”
The riots that erupted in Baltimore — just an hour’s drive north of Washington — after Gray’s funeral left shops looted, dozens of police officers injured and led to hundreds of arrests.
“It was clear that recent events, including the tragic, in-custody death of Freddie Gray, had given rise to a serious erosion of public trust,” Lynch said.
The probe, known as a “pattern-or-practice investigation,” has been employed in communities around the nation. It aims to study whether a police force has engaged in systemic or persistent patterns of misconduct, and does not focus on individual cases.
Lynch, poised and composed given the critical nature of one of her first appearances before reporters in her new position, said the review will lead to a report detailing possible reforms going forward.