With racial tension gripping Baltimore’s streets for weeks now, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Wednesday asked the Justice Department to investigate her city’s entire Police Department, while at the same time promising that officers would be wearing body cameras by the end of the year.
“Baltimore continues to have a fractured relationship between the police and the community,” she said. “We have to get it right. Failure is not an option.”
She said her aim was to ensure the department was not engaging in “a pattern of stops, searches or arrests that violate the 4th Amendment.”
Shortly afterward, Gov. Larry Hogan lifted a state of emergency, praising the National Guard and police officers who “quickly brought calm and order back to the city.”
“We touched every corner of the city we could reach,” said Hogan, a Republican. “We saw devastation and destruction, but we also saw incredible acts of kindness. We saw neighbors helping neighbors. We saw a community that cares about each other.”
The request for Justice Department help comes one day after a visit by Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch, who pledged to improve the Baltimore Police Department. Lynch met with Freddie Gray’s family, community members, police officers and civic leaders including Rawlings-Blake.
Gray, 25, was arrested April 12 with what police said was an illegal knife. He was handcuffed and put inside a police van that was to deliver him to precinct headquarters. During one of several stops he was also put in leg irons. He arrived at the precinct unconscious, having suffered a severed spine.
He died a week later, setting off days of rioting and tense standoffs between protesters and police. Hundreds of demonstrators set police cars and businesses ablaze, throwing rocks and looting stores. At least 486 people were arrested and 113 police officers injured in the protests, police said.
Rawlings-Blake came under criticism at times, accused of responding too slowly to Gray’s death.
The Justice Department, which last month began a criminal investigation into whether Gray's civil rights were violated, said it was weighing the mayor’s request for a “pattern or practice” inquiry that would investigate whether the department is systematically violating people’s rights.
“The attorney general is actively considering that option in light of what she heard from law enforcement, city officials, and community, faith and youth leaders in Baltimore,” Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in a statement emailed to reporters.
It is not the first time Baltimore has sought out the Justice Department. In October, the city asked for — and received — the agency’s help to look into allegations of police misconduct, a long-simmering issue that became more urgent after a Baltimore Sun series found the city had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in court judgments and settlements for lawsuits in which officers were accused of using unnecessary force.
The federal investigation Rawlings-Blake called for Wednesday is more extensive than last year's review, said Kevin Harris, a spokesman for the mayor's office.
“The collaborative review that she called for before will continue,” Harris told the Los Angeles Times, adding that Wednesday's request involves a broader range of systemic issues.
“At the end of it, the accountability is a lot stronger in what we called for today,” Harris said. “This one has more stringent accountability and it's a deeper dive into the Police Department.”
Last week, Baltimore State’s Atty. Marilyn Mosby filed criminal charges against the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport. The six, who face charges including assault and second-degree murder, are free on bail.
Mosby has said the officers did not have probable cause to arrest Gray because the knife tucked into his clothing was a legal pocketknife — not an illegal one, such as a spring-loaded one, as indicated in the police report.
An attorney for one of the arrested officers has challenged Mosby’s claims. Marc Zayon, who is representing Officer Edward Nero, 29, asked the court to make the prosecutor’s office and the police turn over the knife for inspection, according to a motion filed Monday.
Nero was one of the officers who placed Gray in the transport van and later placed him in leg irons. Nero also reportedly failed to secure Gray with a seat belt, as was required by department policy.
Nero faces two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and one charge of false imprisonment.
In a statement Tuesday, Mosby said evidence from the independent investigation “cannot ethically be disclosed” to the public before a trial.