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Justice Department expands probe into use of deadly force by Chicago police

Justice Department expands probe into use of deadly force by Chicago police
U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch has announced that the Justice Departmentis expanding its investigation into the Chicago Police Department. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch on Monday said the Justice Department is expanding its investigation into the Chicago Police Department, following a public uproar over a video showing a fatal shooting 14 months ago.

The "pattern and practice" investigation, announced at morning news conference, is the latest launched under a 1994 civil rights law passed after the Rodney J. King beating by police in Los Angeles.

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The October 2014 video showed Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting Laquan McDonald, who was carrying a small pen knife, 16 times as the 17-year-old appeared to be walking away from officers on a commercial strip.

Van Dyke is already the subject of a separate criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney and the criminal section of the civil rights division, which is also looking at allegations of a cover-up by other officers.

The new investigation will focus more broadly on Chicago officers' use of deadly force, racial disparities in enforcement, the system of oversight of police shootings, handling of allegations of misconduct, training and community engagement.

"What we are looking at is to see if the police department, as a systemic matter, has engaged in constitutional violations of policing," Lynch said. "When suspicion and hostility is allowed to fester, it can interrupt into unrest. Building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities we serve is one of my highest priorities as attorney general."

If a pattern of violations is found, the Justice Department will seek "court-enforceable agreement with the Chicago Police Department," Lynch said. The probe will be carried out by the Justice Department's civil rights division, directed by Vanita Gupta, a former ACLU lawyer.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who initially balked at the federal probe, said in a statement that he welcomed it and promised the city's "complete cooperation."

"Our mutual goal is to create a stronger, better police department that keeps the community safe while respecting the civil rights of every Chicagoan," the statement said. "Nothing is more important to me than the safety and well-being of our residents and ensuring that the men and women of our police department have the tools, resources and training they need to be effective crime fighters, stay safe and build community trust."

The Justice Department is currently negotiating with Ferguson, Mo., after finding widespread abuses in its police department and municipal courts. Though negotiations have dragged on for months, federal officials said they are making progress and hope to reach an agreement with the city, forestalling a federal lawsuit.

The Justice Department is conducting an investigation of the Baltimore Police Department in the wake of this year's death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in police custody.

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