Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the Justice Department is significantly expanding its inquiry into the conduct of the Ferguson police after the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown.
Holder said the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting itself “remains open and remains very active,” and assured Americans that the probe is “fair, thorough and independent.”
When he was recently in Ferguson, though, the attorney general said he heard people “consistently” express “compelling” concern about law enforcement incidents and a “lack of diversity on the police force.”
In addition to collecting resident complaints, the Justice Department said it reviewed public records including “demographics” and “cases filed by private litigants” in its decision to open the investigation.
“As a result of this history,” Holder said, his department decided to launch an “extensive review of documented allegations” and open an investigation to determine if there is a pattern or practice of violations in Ferguson.
Holder said the review of “constitutional policing” practices would be undertaken by the Civil Rights Division.
The investigation will focus on all aspects of policing, he said, including force, the use of deadly force, stops, searches, arrest, detainment procedures and conditions, and any “discriminatory police techniques and tactics.”
Holder said they met with the mayor and police chief, who “welcomed this investigation” and pledged to cooperate with the DOJ.
He added that the investigation would go wherever it may lead, and could expand to neighboring jurisdictions. “We will not hesitate to do so,” he said.
Two days after Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown, Holder vowed that the DOJ would “supplement, rather than supplant, the inquiry by local authorities.”
On Aug. 20, Holder visited Ferguson to meet with local officials and the Brown family.
“As the brother of a retired police officer, I know firsthand that our men and women in uniform perform their duties in the face of tremendous threats and significant personal risk. They put their lives on the line every day, and they often have to make split-second decisions,” Holder said after his trip.
“But in my conversations with dozens of people in Ferguson, it was clear that this shooting incident has brought to the surface underlying tensions that have existed for some time; tensions with a history that still simmers in communities across the country,” he added. “The national outcry we’ve seen speaks to the sense of mistrust and mutual suspicion that can sometimes take hold in the relationship between law enforcement officers and their constituents.”
Rep. Wm “Lacy ” Clay (R-Mo.), who represents the district where the Brown shooting occurred, said in a statement that he’s “very gratified that the Department of Justice has responded to my concerns and those of my constituents by launching this federal probe into possible civil rights violations that may have been committed by the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department.”
“I want to personally thank Attorney General Holder for responding to my request with such strength and speed,” Clay said.