Justice Department to Investigate Ferguson Police for Pattern of Civil-Rights Violations

by Patrick Brennan

The U.S. Department of Justice will conduct a civil-rights investigation of the Ferguson, Mo., police department, not looking further into the shooting of Michael Brown, who was killed by a Ferguson police officer earlier this summer, but at the department’s pattern of conduct over the years.

Federal law-enforcement officers have already been in the area for weeks to conduct a civil-rights investigation of the Brown, which would determine whether the federal government will bring civil-rights charges. Former DOJ civil-rights attorney Robert Driscoll has explained on NRO why a civil-rights prosecution in the Brown case is unlikely — it’s quite possible a broad investigation of the Ferguson PD might be the most the Justice Department does in the wake of the Brown shooting.

The Washington Post, which broke the news, explains that the broader probe “will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country.”

The investigation will also look at other departments in the county that contains Ferguson, St. Louis County. At least one department, officials said, invited the DOJ to look at its practices.

The federal Department of Justice has pursued more such investigations of local police departments under the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder than it had in prior years, with at least 34 such departments undergoing such investigations right now. The probes cite a 1994 federal law passed in the wake of the beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles Police Department, which empowers the DOJ to look into departments to see whether they have a pattern of violating citizens’ constitutional rights or rights under federal civil-rights law.

One such investigation concluded in April, with Holder’s Justice Department releasing a critical report about excessive use of force by the Albuquerque, N.M., police department, which led to an agreement about reforms the department would implement.

Several Ferguson cops have been involved in recent lawsuits brought by private citizens about individual civil-rights violations (some regarding incidents at other departments). Those suits make “a variety of allegations, including killing a mentally ill man with a Taser, pistol-whipping a child, choking and hog-tying a child and beating a man who was later charged with destroying city property because his blood spilled on officers’ clothes,” according to the Washington Post, which reported on them recently.