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4 Sep, 2014 10:45

DOJ to open investigation of Ferguson Police Department

DOJ to open investigation of Ferguson Police Department

The US Department of Justice will open a probe into the Ferguson Police Department over the August shooting death of an unarmed black teenager by a white cop, according to federal law enforcement.

The investigation by the US Justice Department will be carried out by the department’s Civil Rights Division and will examine “complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force” by the Ferguson police, officials who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Washington Post.

Cop-cam: Ferguson police to wear body cameras

The probe, according to the officials, will focus not just on Ferguson, but other St. Louis police departments, many of which employ a majority of white police officers in predominantly African-American communities.

The Justice Department is expected to make an official announcement of the investigation as early as Thursday afternoon.

The move by Attorney General Eric J. Holder’s office comes in the aftermath of the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an African-American who was shot six times by white police officer Darren Wilson, who maintains that he acted in self-defense.

The shooting of the unarmed teenager threw a harsh spotlight on the issue of predominantly white police in Ferguson, as well as other Missouri townships, resorting to racial profiling of blacks, as well as officers abusing their authority.

Ferguson residents have accused their city's police of not representing the racial demographics of the St. Louis suburb. Although Ferguson is around 65 percent black, just 11 percent of the city's police officers are African-American.

Brown was approached by Wilson as the black teenager walked down the middle of a Ferguson street in the afternoon, accompanied by another young man. Wilson claims that Brown attempted to grab his weapon while the two men scuffled near Wilson’s police cruiser.

Witnesses say Brown had attempted to escape from the police officer, before turning around with his arms outstretched to surrender after Wilson allegedly discharged his gun. The officer, according to witnesses, then fired six shots at the unarmed teenager, all of which reportedly entered the victim from the front, including two in his head, according to an independent autopsy paid for by Brown’s family.

The killing sparked days of protests and violence in the St. Louis suburb, as demonstrators took to the streets to demand justice.

A police officer wears a body camera at a rally for Michael Brown August 30, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.(AFP Photo / Aaron P. Bernstein)

The Brown case is not the first time the Ferguson Police Department has been subjected to criticism. In one case, Ferguson officers were accused of beating a man, then pressing charges against him for damaging government property — by getting his blood on the officers’ uniforms.

The investigation will consider whether the Ferguson Police Department resorted to policies and practices that led to civil rights violations. This DOJ probe is in addition to a Justice Department investigation that will attempt to determine whether Officer Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights prior to the fatal shooting.

There were disturbing examples of police using excessive force and tactics in the course of the Ferguson protests. For example, Lt. Ray Albers, a 20-year police veteran, was caught on film as he aimed his rifle and shouted obscenities at protesters and journalists, "I will f***ing kill you, get back, get back," he shouted.

Albers yelled, “Go f*** yourself,” when asked his name by a reporter in the crowd. A sergeant "immediately took action, forcing the officer to lower the weapon and escorting him away from the area," a statement from the county department said.

Experts say a big part of the problem with American police forces is that they are receiving left-over military equipment from the US government, as well as the military training techniques to compliment the powerful hardware.

The St. Louis County Police Department’s annual budget is around $160 million, according to Newsweek.

In light of these disturbing developments, an increasing number of politicians are throwing their support behind investigations of local police departments that are increasingly resembling paramilitary forces.

Missouri Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal (d), whose district includes Ferguson, was quoted by the Post as saying she is “fully supportive” of the expanded Justice Department investigation.

“I’ve literally had to pull my staff from Jefferson City and put them in Ferguson because of the number of people who are saying they’ve had past issues with the police,” she said.

Meanwhile, a St. Louis County grand jury is hearing evidence that could lead to formal charges against police officer Darren Wilson.