The U.S. Justice Department on Friday announced a federal civil rights investigation into the legality of the Baltimore police department’s use of force and whether there are patterns of discriminatory policing.
The investigation is being launched at the request of Baltimore’s mayor in response to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man injured in police custody, and the outrage it sparked in Maryland’s largest city.
Though the Justice Department is already investigating Gray’s death and working with the Baltimore police on reform, Lynch said last week’s protests pointed to the need for an investigation.
“It was clear to a number of people looking at this situation that the community’s rather frayed trust – to use an understatement – was even worse and has in effect been severed in terms of the relationship with the police department,” Lynch said at a press conference on Friday.
The investigation is not specifically tied to Gray’s case but will instead focus on wider allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers use excessive force, including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing, Lynch said.
“If unconstitutional policies or practices are found, we will seek a court-enforceable agreement to address those issues,” she said.
Gray sustained spinal injuries after being arrested April 12 and died April 19. His death sparked protests and a day of arson and looting in the largely black city.
Baltimore’s chief prosecutor has brought criminal charges, including one murder charge, against six officers, three white and three black, involved in the arrest.
Lynch, who took office last week, traveled to Baltimore on Tuesday to meet with Gray’s family as well as thank officers for their work during the protests.
The Justice Department has conducted similar reviews of U.S. police departments. 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.
Any findings would result in civil rather than criminal charges. Departments that have been found in violation of civil rights in the past have had to enter into court-ordered improvement plans, which can include an independent monitor, required reporting of arrest data and training for officers. No jail sentences for individual officers are attached to civil charges.