DOJ Investigation of Ferguson Police: Fair and Impartial?

It’s not enough that the Justice Department is investigating the shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO police officer. Now it’s opening up a “pattern and practice” investigation of the entire Ferguson police force. The big question: Is this Justice Department capable of conducting a fair and impartial investigation?

The applicable federal law (42 U.S.C. §14141) makes it unlawful for any governmental authority “to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers … that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” This is not a criminal statute; it gives DOJ authority to file a civil action to “obtain appropriate equitable and declaratory relief to eliminate the pattern or practice.”

The question about the Department’s ability to conduct a fair “pattern and practice” inquiry arises because the shop responsible for conducting the investigation is the Special Litigation Section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Sections attorneys enjoy incredibly broad discretion in deciding what investigations and cases to pursue and have a disturbing track record of abusing that power.

As I explained in one of a series of articles called “Every Single One” that J. Christian Adams and I wrote for PJ Media on hiring in the Civil Rights Division:

Anyone who doubts the havoc that renegade attorneys from the Special Litigation Section can inflict on municipal institutions needs only read Heather MacDonald’s extraordinary piece -- “Targeting the Police: The Holder Justice Department Declares Open Season on Big City Police Departments” -- detailing the $100 million that the Los Angeles Police Department has been forced to incur as part of a draconian federal consent decree demanded by the Section’s legal staff. Or one can examine the (fortunately failed) efforts by Section attorneys during the Clinton administration to intimidate the state of New Jersey into radically modifying its law enforcement practices based on bogus allegations of racial profiling by state troopers.

Incredibly, the Section’s staff even tried to suppress the report that completely debunked the allegations. It was a sad state of affairs that eventually caused the Bush administration to have to remove the then-chief of the Section and force the line attorney involved to find alternative employment.

In the analysis of the resumes of the lawyers hired in the Special Litigation Section during the Obama administration (which DOJ only reluctantly turned over after PJ Media filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit), Adams and I found that every single one of the 23 new career attorneys hired in the Section since the Obama administration came to office had unequivocal liberal bona fides. While numerous lawyers were hired who had worked as public defenders or for organizations that advocate for the rights of criminals and prisoners, “not a single lawyer was hired with experience as a prosecutor or in law enforcement in a Section which has as one its main jobs investigating the practices of local police.”