WASHINGTON – Attorney General Eric Holder this week will launch a broad civil rights investigation of the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, according to two federal law enforcement officials.
The investigation, which could be announced as early as this afternoon, will be conducted by the Justice Department’s civil rights division and follow a process similar to that used to investigate complaints of profiling and the use of excessive force in other police departments across the country, the officials said.
The move follows the shooting last month of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American, by a white Ferguson police officer who claimed he acted in self-defense. Brown, who was unarmed, was shot at least six times on the afternoon of Aug. 9.
Holder’s decision will represent the Obama administration’s most aggressive step to address the Ferguson shooting, which set off days of often-violent clashes between police and demonstrators in the streets of the St. Louis suburb.
The federal officials said the probe will look not only at Ferguson but also at other police departments in St. Louis County. Some, like Ferguson, are predominantly white departments serving majority-black communities, and at least one department invited the Justice Department to look at its practices. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The investigation is in addition to a Justice Department probe into whether Officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shots, violated Brown’s civil rights. The new probe will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that five current and one former member of the Ferguson police force face pending federal lawsuits claiming they used excessive force.
The lawsuits, as well as more than a half-dozen internal investigations, include claims that individual officers separately hog-tied a 12-year-old boy who was checking his family mailbox, pistol-whipped children and used a stun gun on a mentally ill man who died as a result.