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Report: Justice Dept. to launch investigation of Baltimore police

The Justice Department will launch a probe into the use of force by Baltimore's police, the Washington Post reported

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will launch a federal probe into whether Baltimore's police department has engaged in a “pattern or practice” of excessive force, The Washington Post reported on Thursday evening.

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The Post, citing two law enforcement officials, said Lynch's announcement of the investigation could come as soon as Friday. Lynch visited Baltimore earlier in the week.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday night, according to the Post.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the Justice Department on Wednesday to investigate the policing practices of the entire city police force. The request followed the unrest that roiled the city after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who was severely injured in police custody, and came a day after her closed-door meeting at City Hall with Lynch.

Baltimore suffered days of unrest after Gray died April 19 following a week in a coma after his arrest. Protesters threw bottles and bricks at police the night of his funeral on April 27, injuring nearly 100 officers. More than 200 people were arrested as cars and businesses burned. 

Baltimore had already been participating in a voluntary Justice Department review, requested by Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts last fall. It would enable police to implement reforms without a court order or independent monitor.

Batts turned over the results of a departmental investigation of Gray's death to the Maryland state prosecutor last week.

Lynch said Baltimore had made significant strides in a voluntary, collaborative reform effort with the Justice Department that began last fall. 

She told a Senate subcommittee on Thursday that more may need to be done and that she was in the process of considering the request for a full-fledged civil rights investigation.

A civil rights investigation, similar to ones undertaken in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, would examine the policing patterns and practices of the entire police department to determine how they use force, and search and arrest suspects. 

It is far broader in scope than a separate Justice Department investigation that aims to determine whether Gray's civil rights were violated, and could eventually force the city to make changes under the oversight of an outside monitor.

The unrest in Baltimore last week, and the tensions it exposed between the police and community, present the first major test of Lynch's tenure. She was sworn in last week as the successor to Eric Holder, whose final year as attorney general was consumed by matters of race relations and law enforcement.

Rawlings-Blake initially appeared determined to fix the department's problems herself, but later said she would accept outside help to repair a breakdown in public trust of the police department after Gray's death. 

Her change won her support from other public officials and praise from legal experts for requesting the investigation.

Batts, brought in by the mayor 2 1/2 years ago to reform the department, said Thursday that he welcomed Rawlings-Blake's request “with open arms.”

“We have never shied away from scrutiny or assistance. Our work is ongoing and anyone who wishes to be a part of helping the department better connect with the community will always be welcome,” Batts wrote in a statement.

Gray was taken into custody April 12 after police “made eye contact” with him and another man in an area known for drug activity, police said. Gray was handcuffed and put in a transport van. At some point during his roughly 30-minute ride, the van was stopped and Gray's legs were shackled when an officer felt he was becoming “irate,” police said.

Gray died on April 19, a week after his arrest of what police described as “a significant spinal injury.”

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby on May 1 charged the six with felonies ranging from assault to murder in Gray’s death, prompting many in the city to erupt with joy on Friday.

At least two of the officers have filed motions challenging the prosecutor's assertion that Gray was arrested illegally.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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