DOJ Brings Civil Rights Probe to Ferguson, Mo.
ST. LOUIS (CN) - The federal investigation of the shooting death of Michael Brown has become a broader civil rights probe of the practices of the police department in Ferguson, Mo., the Justice Department said Thursday.
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, fatally shot the black Brown on Aug. 9, and weeks of often violent protests quickly took hold of the city.
"This investigation will be conducted both rigorously and in a timely manner, so we can move forward as expeditiously as possible to restore trust, rebuild understanding, and foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members," Holder said at a briefing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. "At the same time, I want to make very clear that - as this investigation unfolds and evolves - we will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead. And if, at any point, we find reason to expand our inquiry to include additional police forces in neighboring jurisdictions, we will not hesitate to do so."
Instead of focusing on just the shooting, the Justice Department's investigation will look at various practices by the Ferguson Police Department, including traffic stops, arrests, and the use of deadly force patterns and practices.
Holder also announced a collaborative reform effort with the St. Louis County Police Department. Since the county administers training programs to officers throughout the area, it made sense to include it as part of the comprehensive approach to solve the region's issues, Holder said.
Noting that he met with two Justice Department employees Wednesday, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said he was surprised about the quick decision to expand the investigation.
"I told them honestly that we're not hiding anything, so if someone wants to look into this, I welcome it," Knowles told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I have nothing to hide and neither does our city, and we will comply and participate with their investigation. I hope this will restore confidence in our police department and the city government."
The Justice Department under Holder has a pattern of expanding civil rights investigations of various police departments. Since 1997, 21 law enforcement agencies around the country have signed consent agreements to improve policing after similar investigations, the Post-Dispatch reported.
The rate of these investigations has accelerated under Holder's leadership. During his five-year reign, The Justice Department has initiated twice the number of civil rights investigations of police departments as any of his predecessors, and at least 34 departments are now being investigated, according to the Washington Post.
In the weeks after Brown's shooting death, protests often became violent. Tear gas and rubber bullets became nightly occurrences and several businesses were looted and burned, causing Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to eventually call in the National Guard.
Over the past couple of weeks, the violence has subsided. Nixon removed the state of emergency declaration for Ferguson on Wednesday, thereby also removing his ability to remove St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch from the case.
Protestors have asked for McCulloch's removal from the Brown investigation. McCulloch is currently presenting evidence from the shooting to a grand jury.