Crime & Justice

DOJ opens civil rights probe of Baltimore police, accused officers want case dismissed

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks about Baltimore during a news conference at the Justice Department May 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. She announced the Justice Department will launch a probe into possible civil rights violations involving the Baltimore Police Department.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks about Baltimore during a news conference at the Justice Department May 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. She announced the Justice Department will launch a probe into possible civil rights violations involving the Baltimore Police Department.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Update

Six Baltimore police officers charged in connection with the death of a man who received a spinal injury while in their custody want a judge to dismiss the case, saying in court documents they are the victims of an "overzealous prosecution" riddled with personal and political conflicts of interest.

At a minimum, officers said in their motions filed Friday, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby should be replaced with an independent prosecutor.

The officers maintain Freddie Gray's arrest was legal based on their contention Gray was carrying a type of knife that is illegal.

The officers also allege Mosby had a personal interest in calming unrest in the city that followed Gray's death because her husband is a city councilman.

A call Friday evening to Mosby's spokeswoman for comment wasn't returned.

— Juliet Linderman, The Associated Press

Earlier

The Justice Department has officially opened a civil rights investigation into the Baltimore Police Department.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked for the investigation after her city was beset by protests and riots over the death of Freddie Gray.

During a press conference on Friday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the investigation will focus on allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers "use excessive force, including deadly force, conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests, and engage in discriminatory policing."

"Our goal is to work with the community, public officials, and law enforcement alike to create a stronger, better Baltimore," Lynch said. "The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division has conducted dozens of these pattern or practice investigations, and we have seen from our work in jurisdictions across the country that communities that have gone through this process are experiencing improved policing practices and increased trust between the police and the community."

NPR's Carrie Johnson first reported the investigation yesterday. As she reported, Lynch "made Baltimore the site of her first official trip this week, as she met with faith leaders and young activists."

The Justice Department was already looking into whether civil rights laws were violated in the death of Gray, who suffered a fatal spine injury in police custody. And the department was also already working with Baltimore police to try to remedy some issues. This investigation will be much broader than both of the probes already in progress, Lynch said.

"Rather than examining whether the police department violated good policies, we will examine if they violated the constitution and the community civil rights," Lynch said.

The attorney general added: "None of us have any illusions that reform is easy. The challenges we face, and that Baltimore faces now, did not arise in a day, and change will not come overnight. It will take time and sustained effort. The people I've met in Baltimore, from the protesters to the public officials to the officers, including one injured in the violence, all were saying the same thing: 'I love my city and want to make it better.' I'm optimistic about the process and am hopeful about the days to come."

— Eyder Peralta, NPR. Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.