- The Washington Times - Monday, December 7, 2015

The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department to examine officers’ use of force and the department’s internal system of accountability, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Monday.

 

The probe comes less than week after the Chicago mayor fired the city’s police chief amid outrage over the recent release of a video from 2014 that showed a white police officer fatally shoot a black teenager.

Ms. Lynch said investigation will look into whether the Chicago Police Department “engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the constitution or federal law,” specifically with regard to the agency’s deadly use of force and any racial or ethnic disparities in officers’ use of force. 

Members of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will conduct the investigation and Ms. Lynch said investigators hope to hear from community members about their interactions with police as well as from officers themselves. 

If the investigation uncovers unconstitutional practices, the DOJ will announce its findings and seek a court-enforceable agreement with the department to institute reforms.

The attorney general declined to give any timeline of the investigation, including how long it may last or when officials first began looking into complaints.

The announcement comes less than two weeks after a Chicago police officer was charged with first-degree murder in the death of a black teenager. Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged in connection with the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times.

The shooting happened in October 2014 as officers were responding to reports that someone had broken into several vehicles. Officers encountered McDonald and  saw him carrying a knife in hand.

The video shows McDonald walking down the middle of a road when police cars pull up around him and two officers emerge. He appears to be walking away from the officers when Officer Van Dyke opens fire. A gunshot hits McDonald and he spins around and falls to the ground. Officer Van Dyke, the only officer who opened fire, continues to fire at McDonald for about 14 seconds as he lies on the ground, according to prosecutors handing that case.

Over the weekend, Chicago officials released police reports from the incident that contradict the events seen in the video - which was recorded on a police car’s dashboard camera.

The reports show that Officer Van Dyke and at least five other officers said that McDonald moved or turned threateningly toward officers in official statements.

 Ms. Lynch declined to comment specifically on those reports, saying that “all information will be factored into the investigation.”

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