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Department of Justice Investigating Three Police Departments for Misconduct

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The US Department of Justice is currently investigating three police departments around the country for possible misconduct: Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland, Ohio; and Baltimore, Maryland.

Cleveland’s federal probe was launched, March, 2013, during the aftermath of a November police chase the prior year. The incident ended with two unarmed people killed in a hail of 137 bullets fired by 13 Cleveland police officers.

Police said driver Timothy Russell, 43, tried to ram officers with his 1979 Chevy Malibu after leading them on a chase from downtown Cleveland to an East Cleveland middle school. Russell was eventually struck by 23 bullets. The passenger, 30-year-old Malissa Williams was struck by 24 bullets.

Officer Michael Brelo, who fired 49 rounds during the volley, faces voluntary manslaughter charges. More than 70 officers and supervisors have been disciplined for their ancillary roles in the pursuit.

The federal inquiry into Ferguson’s police department began in September, a month after Officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown. Wilson’s use of force was been called into question, igniting protests and more violence in the community.

A gunshot wound to Michael Brown’s hand is consistent with someone reaching for a gun, a medical examiner who reviewed Brown’s official autopsy told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Wednesday.

Brown who weighed 289 pounds and stood 6’5″was shot six times by Wilson on Aug. 9, the offical  St. Louis County autopsy says. He received two bullets to the head, two to the upper chest, and one each in the forearm and right thumb.

“[Brown’s thumb wound] supports the fact that this guy is reaching for the gun, if he has gunpowder particulate material in the wound,” said forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek. “If he has his hand near the gun when it goes off, he’s going for the officer’s gun.”

Finally, US Department of Justice officials pledged Monday to conduct a collaborative, thorough, independent and objective review of the police department in Baltimore, Maryland.

The request came days after The Baltimore Sun reported the city paid $5.7 million in court judgments and settlements in 102 civil suits alleging police misconduct since 2011. Nearly all of the people involved in the incidents that led to the lawsuits were cleared of criminal charges and some officers were named in multiple lawsuits.

“Policing consultants, working with federal officials, plan to start interviewing community members, elected leaders, officers and union officials within weeks,” head of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services Ronald L. Davis said. “They plan to ride with officers and examine the culture, practices, policies, supervision and oversight in the department.”

The Justice Department plans to hold community meetings so residents can discuss problems they have seen with the police. Officials plan to issue an assessment and recommendations, and provide two updates in the 18 months after the review is finished.

Outside Baltimore, the DOJ hasn’t given any rough timelines for when its investigations may be completed.

“The road ahead will be difficult,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said last year when the investigation was announced. “This work is not easy, but this independent review is critical to ensuring and preserving trust between a police department and the community it serves.”

In the last five years, the DOJ has opened investigations into 20 police departments, a two-fold increase over the previous five years.

Once the investigations are complete, the cities could sign consent decrees that would mandate changes throughout troubled departments.

Eight consent decrees are currently being enforced by federal authorities resulting from investigations in New Orleans, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Detroit, East Haven, Connecticut, and Warren, Ohio.