DOJ Report: Baltimore Police Discriminate Against Black People, Use Excessive Force
BALTIMORE (WJZ/AP) — Baltimore police officers routinely discriminate against blacks, repeatedly use excessive force and are not adequately held accountable for misconduct, according to a harshly critical Justice Department presented at a news conference Wednesday.
The 163-page report, the culmination of a yearlong investigation into one of the country's largest police forces, also found that officers make large numbers of stops — mostly in poor, black neighborhoods — with dubious justification and unlawfully arrest citizens for speech deemed disrespectful. Physical force is used unnecessarily, including against the mentally disabled, and black pedestrians and drivers are disproportionately searched during stops, the report says.
The report also found that some Baltimore officers asked for sex in exchanged for not arresting women. One woman went through a strip search on a public street after being stopped for a broken headlight.
WJZ obtained a copy of the report in advance of its public announcement at an event Wednesday morning in Baltimore.
The investigation was launched after the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken while he was handcuffed and shackled but left unrestrained in the back of a police van. The death set off protests and the worst riots in decades.
Six officers, three white and three black, were charged in the death of Gray. Three were acquitted, another officer's trial ended in a mistrial and the charges against the others were dropped last month.
The report went far beyond the circumstances of Gray's death to examine a slew of potentially unconstitutional practices.
U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, Vanita Gupta, said federal investigators spent more than a year interviewing Baltimore residents, police officers, prosecutors, public defenders and elected officials, as well as riding along with officers on duty and reviewing documents and complaints.
RELATED: Watch the full press conference below.
The resulting report represents a damning indictment of how the city's police officers carry out the most fundamental of policing practices, including traffic stops and searches and responding to First Amendment expression.
"BPD teaches officers to use aggressive tactics," the report reads. "BPD's trainings fuel an 'us vs. them' mentality we saw some officers display toward community members, alienating the civilians they are meant to serve."
The report partially blames the department's unconstitutional practices on a "zero tolerance" policy dating back to the early 2000s, during which residents were arrested en masse for minor misdemeanor charges such as loitering.
Although the department has publicly denounced these practices after a 2010 settlement with the NAACP, which sued the department over the policing strategy, "the legacy of the zero tolerance era continues to influence officer activity and contribute to constitutional violations," the report said.
Officers also routinely stop and question individuals without cause or a legitimate suspicion that they're involved in criminal activity, the report says: No charges were filed in 26 of every 27 pedestrian stops. The directives often come from supervisors. In one instance, a supervisor told a subordinate officer to "make something up" after the officer protested an order to stop and question a group of young black men for no reason.
Black residents account for roughly 84 percent of stops, though they represent just 63 percent of the city's population. Likewise, African-Americans make up 95 percent of the 410 people stopped at least 10 times by officers from 2010 to 2015.
During the same time period, officers stopped 34 black residents 20 times, and seven African-Americans 30 times or more, while the report says that no individuals of any other race were stopped more than 12 times.
One man who spoke to investigators said he was stopped 30 times in less than four years. At least 15 of those stops, he said, were to check for outstanding warrants. None of the stops resulted in charges.
In addition to pat-downs, Baltimore officers perform unconstitutional public strip searches, including searches of people who aren't under arrest.
Unconstitutional frisks are also rampant, the report says. In one incident in 2010, a man fled from an officer patrolling a "high-crime area." The officer proceeded to fire his stun gun at the running man's back, striking him several times. When the officer was able to detain the man, he frisked him but found no weapon. The officer's report "provides no reason to believe the man was armed."
The report also says officers routinely use unreasonable and excessive force, including against juveniles and citizens who aren't dangerous or posing an immediate threat. Twenty percent of force incidents reviewed by investigators involved someone who was not being arrested for a crime or who suffered from a mental health disability. Force is often used as a retaliatory tactic in instances where officers "did not like what those individuals said."
BPD Commissioner Kevin Davis assured the public at the news conference that the report is a "turning point" and that the city's police department "will be the model for this nation."
"Change is painful. Growth is painful. But nothing is as painful as being stuck in a place that we do not belong," Davis said. "We haven't just sat back waiting for DOJ to tell us about our shortcomings, we've worked to enact significant changes and reforms before we arrived here before you today."
Davis also noted that the report "is not an indictment on every man and woman that has the privilege of wearing this uniform, this patch and this badge."
"This report is, however, an indictment of those bad behaviors by a relatively small number of police officers over many, many years. There are officers right now that are just as offended as we are to see the details that are laid out in this report. Why? Because they wear this uniform proudly and they serve the citizens of Baltimore honorably each and every day."
The Justice Department in recent years has undertaken similar wide-reaching investigations into the police in Chicago, Cleveland, Albuquerque and Ferguson, Missouri, among other cities.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she anticipates, based on reforms implementation in other cities, that the annual cost could be between $5 million and $10 million.
The head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund says the Justice Department's report confirms "what many African-American residents of Baltimore have known and lived too long."
In a statement, fund President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill called the findings of the report being released Wednesday "devastating," saying they "lay bare the harsh reality of discriminatory policing in a major American city."
State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the city's top prosecutor, said she expected the report to "confirm what many in our city already know or have experienced firsthand."
"While the vast majority of Baltimore City Police officers are good officers, we also know that there are bad officers and that the department has routinely failed to oversee, train, or hold bad actors accountable," she said in a statement.
She said she was confident that the federal probe would "lead to even more reforms which is an important step in ensuring best practices for a fully functioning police-prosecutor relationship."
In a statement released Thursday evening, State's Attorney's Office spokesperson Rochelle Ritchie said the comments made in an email about a sexual assault victim were not brought to the agency's attention before the DOJ report was made public
"The unconfirmed comments made in an email about a sexual assault victim, in the recently released Department of Justice investigation into the Baltimore Police Department, were not brought to our attention prior to this report being released.
"As indicated in the report, this allegation represents a time frame between 2010-2015. Because this administration began in January 2015, which coincides with the time frame of the investigation, we intend to look into this matter.
"Insensitive comments, such as the one quoted in the DOJ report, work against our efforts to successfully and ethically prosecute cases of sexual assault."
ONE-ON-ONE WITH BALTIMORE'S MAYOR, POLICE COMMISSIONER
In a one-on-one interview with WJZ's Vic Carter, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke on moving the city forward.
"The problems that we have in Baltimore aren't unique to Baltimore. These are problems, systemic challenges that police departments have throughout the country. What I do know is I am aggressively focused on fixing it and getting it right because that's what the citizens deserve."
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis says improving the community relation remains a top priority.
"Those zero-tolerance policing days are over. It's not implausible to think for one second that we can't improve the crime fight and enhance our relationships with the community.," said Davis.
Community leaders like Ericka Alston-Buck say this report doesn't reveal anything groundbreaking and that it simply confirms the problems they have already been actively working on.
Alston-Buck says the next step is reform, which starts with police engagement--to ultimately build trust in the neighborhoods they protect.
"When there is something wrong, a child can trust they can go to an officer and say, 'help me,' and they'll be helped and not arrested," says Alston-Buck.
While this report highlights significant challenges, some community leaders, like social justice activist Michael Johnson, criticizes the report for being vague and lacing any real accountability
"I think it was a very well put together sophomoric approach to the problems in Baltimore," said Johnson.
"It's probably eyeopening for people who don't live in the communities that's being affected by it, but not surprising at all in terms of the gravity of the situation,"said community activist and former chair of the NAACP Criminal Justice, Hassan Giordano. "People in these communities, largely African American communities around the city of Baltimore have been accustomed to this type of treatment for decades."
LOCAL LEADERS SAY REPORT WAS NO SURPRISE
Some local leaders say the new report includes complaints they've been hearing from Baltimore residents for years.
"When I read the report I was not shocked," said Congressman Elijah Cummings.
Councilman Nick Mosby says, "it's what many Baltimoreans have known for far too long."
"I have been stopped. I have been frisked. I have all the things that it says, I have lived in my life," said Councilman Brandon Scott.
City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby says "The department has routinely failed to oversee, train, or hold bad actors accountable.
Now, with federal oversight many hope the report leads to major reforms throughout the police department.
"I think it is a major crucial step in bringing us together as a community," said Mary Pat Clarke.
Some leaders say it all starts with what happens here at the city police training academy.
"If you're not properly trained, and then you don't have supervision, that's a formula for disaster," said Cummings.
Police leaders have already taken steps to increase bias training... And now require officers to walk the beat for their first three months on the job.
Now-- they'll focus on the DOJ recommendations.
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