US justice department probes entire Baltimore police department

09 May 2015

The US Department of Justice yesterday launched an investigation into the Baltimore police department's use of force and whether there were patterns of discriminatory policing.

The probe, announced by US attorney general Loretta Lynch, comes on a request by Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who sustained fatal injuries while in police custody, and the outrage it sparked in Maryland's largest city.

The justice department, which had conducted similar reviews of US police departments and an investigation of police in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white officer shot dead an unarmed black teenager last year, concluded in March that the department routinely engaged in racially biased practices.

Though the justice department was already looking into the death of Gray and working with the Baltimore police on reform, Lynch said last week's protests pointed to the need for an investigation.

"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," said Lynch, during her first news conference as head of the justice department. "We will ... examine whether they violated the Constitution and the community's civil rights."

In a statement, Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, said, "Our response to today's announcement of the Civil Rights investigation into the pattern and practices of the Baltimore Police Department is the same as it has always been; we welcome the involvement of the Department of Justice and look forward to working with their representatives to heal the wounds of our city, and to improve the relationship between the community and our Department."

The decision comes after the visit only days earlier, of top justice department officials, including Lynch, to Baltimore and the family of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died in police custody last month after suffering a spinal injury during his arrest.

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