U.S. Justice Department Launches Civil Rights Probe Into Baltimore Police

The investigation will focus on allegations that police officers use excessive force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing.

Julia Edwards, Lindsay Dunsmuir, Susan Heavey and Peter Cooney
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This April 25, 2015 file photo shows a protester shouting at police during a demonstration in Baltimore, Maryland, on April 25, 2015, against the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Credit: AFP
Julia Edwards, Lindsay Dunsmuir, Susan Heavey and Peter Cooney

REUTERS - 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 "systemic violations" as well as any pattern of discriminatory policing.

The announcement came less than one month after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man injured in police custody, sparked outrage in Maryland's largest city, although the department's wider investigation is not specifically tied to his case.

"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," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.

Speaking at a news conference announcing the probe, Lynch cited fractured relations between Baltimore residents and city police.

"Despite the progress being made, it was clear that recent events ... had given rise to a serious erosion of public trust," she said, citing the recent events surrounding Gray's death.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday asked federal officials to investigate the city's police department for civil rights violations after Gray's death to see whether frisks, street stops of suspects and arrests violated the U.S. Constitution.

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, has vowed to help the city pursue police reform.

On April 21, one day after the most violent night of protests, Lynch announced that the Justice Department would launch a federal probe into Gray's death,

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.