Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has asked the Department of Justice to conduct a civil rights investigation into the Baltimore Police Department to determine if the department has engaged in a pattern of racially biased policing.
The mayor made the announcement during a press conference on Wednesday morning — a little more than a week after riots broke out in the city following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a black man who died after allegedly suffering fatal injuries while in police custody on April 12.
Six officers have been charged in Gray’s death. Baltimore City’s State Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said on Friday that Gray, who apparently suffered a severed spine while being transported in the back of a police van, was arrested without probable cause. She added that his death was a result of the officers’ repeated violations of department policy and that they ignored Gray’s pleas for medical attention.
The officers’ charges range from "second degree depraved heart murder" and manslaughter to misconduct in office and false imprisonment.
Rawlings-Blake met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Tuesday, and the mayor formally requested a federal investigation into the Baltimore police department to determine if citizens' Constitutional rights have routinely been violated.
“We all know that Baltimore continues to have a fractured relationship between the police and the community,” Rawlings-Blake said during a news conference on Wednesday. “We have to have a foundation of trust, and I believe that we need the assistance of the Department of Justice and the civil rights investigation to shore up that foundation, which is weak right now in this city.”
A so-called "pattern and practice investigation" is a detailed review of police stops, arrests, use of force and other data to determine if there exists a broader pattern of racially biased policing.
The investigation will be similar to Justice Department probes of the Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Ferguson, Missouri, police departments. Those investigations resulted in scathing reports that uncovered routine civil rights violations by officers. The recent probe of the Ferguson police department, for instance, revealed a shocking system in which officers engaged in excessive force and unwarranted stops of black residents. In addition, Ferguson's municipal courts colluded to levy exorbitant fines on those detained as a means of filling the city’s coffers. The report of the Philadelphia Police Department showed an inadequately trained police force that routinely shot civilians and lacked a transparent review process for those shootings.
Rawlings-Blake said she hopes a federal review of the Baltimore police department will contribute to healing for the city, still reeling from anger, protests and riots that escalted in the wake of Gray’s death.
“Such an investigation is essential if we are going to build on the foundation of reforms that we have instituted over the past few years,” she said. “At the end of this process I will hold those accountable if change is not made. We cannot be timid in addressing this problem and I am a mayor that does not shy away from our city’s big challenges.”
Justice Department spokesperson Dena Iverson said Lynch has received the mayor’s request for a pattern and practice investigation and that she is “actively considering the option in light of what she heard from law enforcement, city officials, and community, faith and youth leaders in Baltimore yesterday.”
Meanwhile, the first of what will likely be a slew of legal motions brought by the six officers charged in Gray’s death was filed in court Monday. It offers a glimpse of one possible defense.
Police say Gray was arrested after he made eye-contact with a group of officers and then took off running. After a brief foot chase, officers caught Gray and found a knife, which they said was an illegal switchblade, hooked onto his pants. Gray was subsequently charged with carrying an illegal knife.
In announcing the charges against the officers on Friday, Mosby said the police had no reason to stop Gray in the first place — that running is not a crime and that the knife was a type of blade permitted by state law.
An attorney for Officer Edward Nero, charged with second-degree assault, misconduct in office and false imprisonment, is refuting Mosby's claim about the weapon and arguing that Gray’s arrest was justified, reported NBC affiliate WBAL. He is asking to inspect the knife.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Mosby said “while the evidence we have obtained through our independent investigation does substantiate the elements of the charges filed, I refuse to litigate this case through the media.”
“The evidence we have collected cannot ethically be disclosed, relayed or released to the public before trial,” Mosby’s statement continued. “As I’ve previously indicated, I strongly condemn anyone in law enforcement with access to trial evidence, who has or continues to leak information prior to the resolution of this case. These unethical disclosures are only damaging our ability to conduct a fair and impartial process for all parties involved.”
Each of the six officers have been arrested, charged and subsequently bonded out of jail. The announcement of charges came on the heels of widespread unrest in Baltimore that climaxed on April 27 with widespread rioting and arson, leaving dozens of officers wounded and hundreds arrested.
In the wake of the worst of violence, Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency and called up thousands of National Guard troops to assist police in the city. A 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew was also put in place following the unrest and remained in place until Sunday.
Shortly after Rawlings-Blake’s Wednesday press conference, Hogan announced the end of the state of emergency and that the National Guard troops had been pulled from the city. Hogan said he would “never forget the lawlessness that sought to tear the city apart,” but also said he’d never lose sight of the “incredible acts of kindness” that he witnessed and a “community that cares about each other.”
Rawlings-Blake said the city and its leaders must look forward to helping the city overcome the tumult of recent weeks.
“While the past few days have been some of our darkest that our city has ever seen,” she said. “We’ve also seen a resilience that set Baltimore apart in times of crisis. We will need that resilience as we reform the police department.”