Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday that the Justice Department will open a civil-rights investigation of the Ferguson Police Department following weeks of protest in response to the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old.
The Justice Department will probe documented allegations of police misconduct, as well as an alleged history of racial discrimination, to determine whether Ferguson officers have violated federal civil-rights laws.
Holder met with officials and members of the community in Ferguson last month, when the St. Louis suburb was in the midst of protests for the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown.
"People consistently expressed concerns stemming from specific alleged incidents from general policing practices and from the lack of diversity on the Ferguson police force," Holder said Thursday. "These anecdotal accounts underscore the history of mistrust of law enforcement in Ferguson that has received a good deal of attention."
Holder said Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, and other city officials have pledged their cooperation in the investigation. The probe, he said, will "assess the police department's use of force, deadly force. It will analyze stops, searches, and arrests. And it will examine the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson's city jail, in addition to other potentially discriminatory policing techniques and tactics that have been brought to light."
Other police departments that were involved in handling the protests last month may not be immune from the Justice Department's scrutiny, Holder said. "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."
Holder also announced Thursday that the Justice Department will work with the St. Louis County Police Department in a "collaborative reform effort," a comprehensive review of policies and training practices. The department was pulled off the scene in Ferguson just days after protests began, due to heavy-handed crowd-control tactics that included the use of tear gas and military-style equipment.
A separate Justice Department probe is looking into the events of Aug. 9 to determine whether Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Brown, violated Brown's civil rights.
The Justice Department investigations will unfold parallel to an FBI civil-rights probe launched just days after Brown's death. At the same time, a grand jury in St. Louis County is hearing the details of the case, but the jury will likely not decide whether to bring charges against Wilson until mid-October.
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