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Justice Department Opens Investigation Into Chicago Police

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced today that the Justice Department has opened an investigation “into whether the Chicago Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.”

“Specifically, we will examine a number of issues related to the Chicago Police Department’s use of force, including its use of deadly force, racial, ethnic and other disparities in its use of force and its accountability mechanisms, such as its disciplinary actions and its handling of allegations of misconduct,” Lynch said.

“This investigation has been requested by a number of state and local officials and community leaders, but has been opened only after a preliminary review and careful consideration of how the Justice Department can best use our tools and our resources to meet Chicago’s needs.”

The video of a police officer shooting 17-year-old Lacquan McDonald 16 times — 14 of those while he was on the ground, barely moving from the first two bullets — was released only after a lawsuit was filed by a freelance journalist to order the release of video. And first-degree murder charges against the officer, Jason Van Dyke, were only announced at the deadline set by a judge for the video’s release.

McDonald was shot in October 2014, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel was vying for re-election in the February 2015 vote.

Lynch said her department “will seek a court-enforceable agreement with the Chicago Police Department and work with the city to implement appropriate reforms” depending on what the investigation reveals.

“Regardless of the ultimate findings of this investigation, we will seek to work with local officials, with residents and law enforcement officers alike, to ensure that the people of Chicago have the world-class police department that they deserve,” she said.

Asked if there would be any obstruction of justice charges brought by the DOJ, Lynch said she would “not discuss what specific charges may be brought until the resolution of that investigation.”

“…We did receive requests from a number of people and offices to look at the Chicago Police Department, and we considered those requests, we also considered what we saw of the Chicago Police Department also. And so a combination of factors — a review by the career people in the Civil Rights Division — has led us to come to this conclusion that this particular pattern and practice investigation is necessary.”

Emanuel initially resisted DOJ involvement in his city, but now says he’ll go along with the probe. The mayor was expected to talk about police accountability in a press conference this afternoon.

“We go into these investigations in every city hoping that we will receive the cooperation of the city, and in a situation where we would not, we would engage with them and let them know what we needed and why it’s important,” Lynch said. “So we are going into this investigation with the view that we will get the cooperation of not only the city, but as I mentioned also, the community. It’s very, very important to us to hear from community members about these types of interactions.”