Justice Department to Investigate Ferguson, Missouri, Police

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The Justice Department intends to launch a civil rights investigation of the entire Ferguson, Missouri, Police Department, according to administration officials.

An announcement of the investigation is planned for Thursday.

With the help of the FBI, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has been investigating last month's fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, who was wounded several times by a Ferguson police officer. The shooting touched off several days of sometimes violent protest.

But this new investigation would be much broader, looking at the conduct of the entire Ferguson Police Department over the past several years.

The Justice Department will also look at the practices of the county police department, but that will be a more cooperative investigation, an administration official said.

Since 1994, the Justice Department has had the legal authority to investigate whether a law enforcement organization is engaging in a "pattern or practice" of civil rights violations. Some investigations end with agreements to improve conduct. Others end up in federal court for a resolution.

In the past five years, the department has launched 20 investigations of police departments nationwide — more than twice as many as were opened in the preceding five years.

Police officers in Ferguson have been the subject of a handful of lawsuits filed in recent years claiming that excessive force was used. In one case, four police officers were accused of beating a man, then charging him with damaging government property — by getting blood on their uniforms.

Many black residents of Ferguson have accused their city's police department of failing to represent the racial diversity of the St. Louis suburb. While Ferguson is about 65 percent black, roughly eleven percent of the city's police officers are black.


- Pete Williams