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Justice Dept. opens civil rights investigation into Baltimore PD

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Justice Department on Friday launched an investigation into the Baltimore police department’s use of force and whether there are patterns of discriminatory policing.

The probe, announced by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, was requested by Baltimore’s mayor in the aftermath 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 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.

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 on Friday.

The latest investigation 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, Lynch said.

“If unconstitutional policies or practices are found, we will seek a court-enforceable agreement to address those issues,” she said.

Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings said he asked Lynch for the investigation to “get to the bottom of the breakdown in trust between the police and the community.”

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement her goal was for the city’s police to reform through an enforceable court order.

Baltimore’s chief prosecutor has brought criminal charges, including one murder charge, against six officers, three white and three black, involved in Gray’s arrest.

Lynch, who took office last week, traveled to the largely black city on Tuesday to meet with Gray’s family as well as thank officers for their work during the protests.

Any findings of the investigation 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.

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