Baltimore police routinely violated the constitutional rights of residents by conducting unlawful stops and using excessive force, according to the findings of a long-anticipated Justice Department probe to be released Wednesday.
The practices overwhelmingly affected the city's black residents in low-income neighborhoods, according to the 163-page report. In often scathing language, the report identified systemic problems and cited detailed examples.
Some of the findings: The investigators found that "supervisors have issued explicitly discriminatory orders, such as directing a shift to arrest 'all the black hoodies' in a neighborhood."
They also found that black residents were more likely to be stopped and searched as pedestrians and drivers even though police were more likely to find illegal guns, illicit drugs and other contraband on white residents.
Gray's death, which triggered rioting captured on live television, was one of several recent killings of unarmed black men by police across the country. The deaths have provoked a nationwide conversation about race, discrimination and police practices, and have exposed deep rifts between police and the communities they serve.
The results of the Justice Department's investigation are expected to be announced Wednesday in Baltimore at a news conference attended by high-ranking federal law enforcement officials and city leaders.
Among the Justice Department findings:
»Baltimore police too often stopped, frisked and arrested residents without legal justification, and such activities fell disproportionately on black residents.
» Federal investigators concluded that 1990s-era policies that encouraged more aggressive policing contributed to the discriminatory practices and that such measures are partly responsible for fraying the faith of city residents in their police force.
» Although city and police leaders have disavowed "zero-tolerance" policing, it has continued on Baltimore's streets as supervisors who came up through the ranks under the former policy have perpetuated it, according to the report, which focused on policing since 2010.
» The report noted that officers recorded more than 300,000 pedestrian stops from January 2010 to May 2015. Roughly 44 percent were made in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain 11 percent of the city's population, and seven black men were stopped more than 30 times each.
» Black pedestrians were 37 percent more likely to be searched by Baltimore police citywide and 23 percent more likely to be searched during vehicle stops. But officers found contraband twice as often when searching white residents during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops, the report notes.
Racial slurs and gender bias
»The report found that Baltimore police routinely misclassified citizen complaints about racial slurs used by officers.
In six years of data on citizen complaints, only one complaint was classified as a racial slur. "This is implausible," the federal investigators found, and so they went back to the complaints and searched for keywords, including racial slurs against blacks.
They found 60 additional complaints that alleged Baltimore officers "used just one racial slur — 'n----r' — but all of these complaints were misclassified as a lesser offense," the report found.
» The report, which looked for practices that violate the Constitution or federal law, also found that gender bias might be affecting the Police Department's handling of sexual assault cases.
Officers frequently used excessive force in situations that did not call for aggressive measures, the report said, and routinely retaliated against residents who were criticizing or being disrespectful of police for exercising their right to free speech and free assembly.
The report found that officers used excessive force against individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis. Because of "a lack of training and improper tactics," police ended up in "unnecessarily violent confrontations with these vulnerable individuals," the report said.
It noted that officers used unreasonable force against juveniles as well, often relying on the "same aggressive tactics they use with adults."
Conclusion of the report
The investigation concluded that deeply entrenched problems were allowed to fester because the department did not properly oversee, train or hold officers accountable.
» For example, the report said, the department lacks systems to deter and detect improper conduct, and it fails to collect and analyze data that might root out abuses or abusers.
» The report said the Police Department also lacks effective strategies for recruitment and retention. A lack of adequate staffing meant "forcing officers to work overtime after long shifts, lowering morale, and leading to officers working with deteriorated decision-making skills."
» The Justice Department's so-called pattern or practice review is expected to be the first step before reaching a court-enforced agreement that would hold the city accountable for making reforms and subject it to federal monitoring for years to come.
In recent years the Justice Department has completed about two dozen similar probes into local police departments across the country, including one after the 2014 shooting of an unarmed black man by police in Ferguson, Mo.
Baltimore officials invited the federal investigation of the Police Department. The Justice Department announced a "collaborative review" with Baltimore police days after a Baltimore Sun investigation in 2014 revealed that the city had paid millions of dollars to settle more than 100 civil suits alleging police brutality and other misconduct.
The Justice Department cites The Baltimore Sun reporting 10 times in its report, including that investigation.
The Justice Department has since worked closely with the Baltimore Police Department, which set up a team of officers and officials to deal directly with federal investigators. The report is expected to praise police and city leaders for their cooperation.
The Police Department also redesigned and placed cameras in its transport vans and introduced a new software platform to better disseminate new training materials and policies for officers. Both issues arose in the Gray case.
In the criminal prosecutions of the six police officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport, three were acquitted at bench trials, and Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby recently dropped the charges against the three remaining officers.
The Justice Department is separately reviewing whether federal civil rights violations occurred. But the legal hurdles for bringing a federal case are higher than those faced by state prosecutors.
Dozens of similar reviews around the country suggest a road map for the city.
In some cases, senior police officials have found that the threat of court action has helped prod officers' unions to accept changes and persuade local officials to pay for improvements. But in others, court oversight has continued for a decade or more as departments have struggled to meet the targets laid out by the Justice Department.
O'Malley: DOJ report doesn't take his reforms into account
Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley sidestepped questions Wednesday about his policing strategy during his time as mayor of Baltimore, a day after the U.S. Department of Justice delivered a blistering critique of the "zero tolerance" policies he adopted to quell spiraling violence in the city at the time.
The DOJ found reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of:
> Conducting stops, searches and arrests without meeting the requirements of the Fourth Amendment;
> Focusing enforcement strategies on African Americans, leading to severe and unjustified racial disparities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Safe Streets Act;
> Using unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth Amendment;
> Interacting with individuals with mental health disabilities in a manner that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
> Interfering with the right to free expression in violation of the First Amendment.
The department also identified serious concerns about other BPD practices, including an inadequate response to reports of sexual assault, which may result, at least in part, from underlying gender bias. Another significant concern identified by the department was transport practices that place detainees at significant risk of harm.
From DOJ: In the agreement in principle, both parties agreed that compliance with the consent decree will be reviewed by an independent monitor. The agreement in principle highlights specific areas of reform to be included in the consent decree, including:
> Policies, training, data collection and analysis to allow for the assessment of officer activity and to ensure that officers’ actions conform to legal and constitutional requirements;
> Technology and infrastructure to ensure capability to effectively monitor officer activity;
> Officer support to ensure that officers are equipped to perform their jobs effectively and constitutionally; and
> Community policing strategies to guide all aspects of BPD’s operations and help rebuild the relationship between BPD and the various communities it serves.
DeRay Mckesson, chief human capital officer Batimore City public schools, Black Lives Matter activist: This report uncovers what so many people already knew to be true. Commissioner [Kevin] Davis’ comments so far highlighted the need and understanding for deep, systemic change, and now we have to see what that means in practice.
I think addressing deficiencies in the police department can be politically risky, and I think some people have not been willing to take those risks. Some people put their careers above what they know to be right. I am thankful the unrest has created an atmosphere that is forcing people to address these issues. We can change the systems and the structures in a way to change the culture. -- Jean Marbella