US Justice Dept. To Probe Ferguson Police Department

US Justice Dept. To Probe Ferguson Police Department
Ferguson Police Department is known for targeting Black residents

AFRICANGLOBE – Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, according to two federal law enforcement officials.

The investigation, which could be announced as early as Thursday afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country, the officials said.

The move follows the murder last month of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American, by a White Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson who claimed he acted in self-defense by slaughtering an unarmed teenager. Michael Brown was shot at least six times on the afternoon of Aug. 9.

Holder’s decision will represent the Obama administration’s most aggressive step to address the Ferguson shooting, which set off days of often-violent attacks by militarized police officers against peaceful protesters in the streets of the St. Louis suburb.

The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County. Some, like Ferguson, are predominantly White departments serving majority-African-American communities, and at least one department invited the Justice Department to look at its practices. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the pending inquiry.

The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated Michael Brown’s civil rights. The new probe will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.

According to reports five current and one former member of the Ferguson police force face pending federal lawsuits claiming they used excessive force. The lawsuits, as well as more than a half-dozen internal investigations, include claims that individual officers separately hog-tied a 12-year-old boy who was checking his family mailbox, pistol-whipped children and used a stun gun on a mentally ill man who died as a result.

In addition to the investigations, a St. Louis County grand jury is hearing evidence that could lead to charges against Darren Wilson.

The number of police department reviews the Justice Department has initiated under Holder for possible constitutional violations is twice that of any of his predecessors. At least 34 other departments are under investigation for alleged civil rights violations.

In April, for example, the Justice Department issued a scathing report concluding that the Albuquerque Police Department had repeatedly used deadly and excessive force in violation of citizens’ constitutional rights when there was no imminent threat to them or the community. The assistant attorney general with the department’s civil rights division said at the time that the Albuquerque department suffered from “inadequate oversight, inadequate investigation of incidents of force, inadequate training of officers to ensure they understand what is permissible or not.”

In certain cases, such as with the New Orleans and Seattle police departments, the Justice Department under Holder has conducted a civil rights investigation parallel with a criminal investigation.

A 1994 federal law gave the civil rights division the authority to probe whether police departments are engaging in a “pattern or practice” of violating constitutional rights or federal rights. The law was enacted after the videotaped beating of African American motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers.

The investigations can be collaborative arrangements, with police chiefs encouraging the thorough reviews, training recommendations and reform ideas the civil rights division proposes. One of the earliest investigations came when then-D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey invited the Justice Department to help him in the wake of an investigation that found his officers shot and killed more people in the 1990s than any other large police department in the country.


By: Sari Horwitz, Carol D. Leonnig and Kimberly Kindy