Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on Friday the Department of Justice will investigate the Baltimore Police Department due to a “serious erosion of public trust” following the controversial death of Freddie Gray.
Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died April 19 due to injuries he suffered while in police custody. Six Baltimore police officers have been charged with crimes ranging from unlawful imprisonment to murder, in connection with his death. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made a public plea on Wednesday for the DOJ take an active role in the case.
“Today, the Department of Justice is opening an investigation into whether the Baltimore Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law,” Lynch announced at a press conference. She said the investigation will examine whether the department uses “excessive force, including deadly force, conducts unlawful searches, seizures or arrests and engage in discriminatory policing.”
At the conclusion of the investigation, Lynch said the DOJ will release a report of its findings and the department’s “unconstitutional policies or practices are found” they will “seek a court-enforceable agreement to address those issues.”
The investigation will go into effect immediately but Lynch cautioned that “none of us have any illusions that reform is easy” and that “change will not come overnight.” However, she said she was optimistic and hopeful after meeting citizens of the city, who the attorney general said told her time and time again, “I love my city and I want to make it better.”
“Earlier this week, I visited with members of the community who took to the streets in the days following the unrest, to pick up trash and clear away debris and they are Baltimore,” Lynch said. “I visited with elected officials who were determined to help the neighborhoods that they love come back stronger and more united, and they are Baltimore. I visited youth leaders who believe that there is a brighter day ahead and they are Baltimore too. And I also visited with law enforcement officers who had worked up to 16 days without a break and they were focused not on themselves, or even their own safety, but on protecting the people who live in their community, they too are Baltimore.”
The death of Freddie Gray sparked nationwide protests and some outbursts of violence on the streets of Baltimore. There has been relative calm in the city since State Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed formal charges against the officers who detained Gray, but the case is far from settled. The police in question are currently out of jail on bond.
The charged cops have filed a motion to dismiss the charges and requesting Mosby step aside in the case, according to WBAL reporter Richard Washington.
“We have seen the tragic loss of a young man’s life, we have seen a peaceful protest movement coalesce to express the concern of a beleaguered community, we have seen brave officers upholding the right to peaceful protest while also sustaining serious injuries themselves during the city’s unfortunate foray into violence and we have watched it all through the prism of one of the most challenging issues of our time – the issue of police-community relations,” Lynch said.
The attorney general said her first reaction to the violence in Baltimore was “profound sadness,” as well as sympathy with protesters reeling from “years of anger” and “generations of mistrust.”
Mayor Rawlings-Blake issued a statement Friday saying she was “pleased” the DOJ took up her request to investigate her city’s police department. “Our city is making progress in repairing the fractured relationship between police and community, but bolder reforms are needed and we will not shy away from taking on these challenges,” she said.
Lynch’s predecessor, Eric Holder, spearheaded a similar investigation into the practices of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department in the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown. That investigation revealed racist rhetoric and biased behavior on the part of officers, and eventually led to the resignation of Police Chief Tom Jackson.
The officer who shot and killed Brown was not indicted by a St. Louis grand jury. Brown’s family has since filed a civil suit against the city of Ferguson, motivated in part by the DOJ’s findings.
When asked about the racial dynamics at play in Baltimore versus Ferguson, Lynch said she encountered “a strong commonality” among the citizens of Baltimore regardless of race in terms of wanting to see their city’s image redeemed.
According to police, Gray was stopped initially because he was carrying a switchblade, but Mosby later announced that he was in possession of a pocket knife, which was not a violation, and therefore his arrest was illegal. Mosby has also said that officers failed to provide Gray with proper medical attention.