DAVID DISHNEAU, Associated Press
BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is winning support from other public officials and praise from legal experts for asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate her police department for discriminatory patterns or practices.
After previously saying she was determined to fix the Baltimore Police Department’s problems herself, the Democratic mayor announced Wednesday that she has asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to order a civil-rights investigation.
“We have to have a foundation of trust,” Rawlings-Blake told a news conference. “I believe we need the assistance of the Department of Justice and the civil rights investigation to shore up that foundation that is weak right now in our city.”
Lynch said in written testimony prepared for a U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing Thursday that her agency is considering the request and she intends to have a decision “in the coming days.”
She said the city has made significant strides in a voluntary, collaborative reform effort with the Justice Department that began last fall, but “I have not ruled out the possibility that more may need to be done.”
The mayor’s announcement Wednesday came a day after her closed-door meeting at City Hall with Lynch.
The broad investigation, if undertaken by the federal agency, could eventually force the city to make changes under the oversight of an outside monitor.
Rawlings-Blake said she would accept outside intervention to repair fractured relations between the police and the public in a city that was torn by riots over the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody last month.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, Baltimore City Council President Jack Young and the president of the city’s police union were among the public officials saying they welcomed the development.
A key figure who didn’t immediately respond was Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, brought in from Oakland, California, by the mayor 2 1/2 years ago to reform the department.
The mayor’s request could put Batts’ leadership under a microscope. A police spokesman did not respond Thursday to requests for the commissioner’s reaction.
Criminologist Samuel Walker, a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Omaha who has written extensively on civil-rights abuses by police, said a civil-rights investigation is warranted in Baltimore and he expects the Justice Department to launch one.
He said Rawlings-Blake “has to be given credit for having thought about the problem and evidently recognized that the problems are worse than she realized, and this is the proper solution.”
Baltimore suffered days of unrest after Gray died April 19 following a week in a coma after his arrest. Protesters threw bottles and bricks at police the night of his funeral on April 27, injuring nearly 100 officers. More than 200 people were arrested as cars and businesses burned.
Baltimore has been participating in a voluntary Justice Department review, requested by Rawlings-Blake and Batts last fall. It would enable police to implement reforms without a court order or independent monitor.
The Justice Department also is investigating whether Gray’s civil rights were violated, a much narrower review than what Rawlings-Blake sought Wednesday.
Six officers face state charges ranging from assault to second-degree murder in Gray’s death. At least two of them have filed motions challenging the prosecutor’s assertion that Gray was arrested illegally.
The investigation the mayor now wants is a wide-ranging probe, examining how police use force, and search and arrest suspects. A similar investigation followed the shooting of an unarmed, 18-year-old black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The department ultimately concluded that Ferguson’s police and courts engaged in patterns of racial profiling, bigotry and profit-driven law enforcement, and directed local authorities to make changes. Local authorities still insist they did nothing wrong.
Associated Press writers Brian Witte and Juliet Linderman in Baltimore and Ben Nuckols and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.