The US Justice Department is to launch a civil rights investigation into the Ferguson police department, following the weeks of rioting sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown, compounding tensions between police and civilians.
The probe, announced by Attorney General Eric Holder, will investigate the patterns of stops and arrests, police training, the use of force, the treatment of people held in the city jail, and the diversity of the Ferguson police force.
It has been seen as the strongest move yet from the Obama administration to address the weeks of rioting and protests that ripped through the streets of Ferguson in August, set off by the shooting of 18-year-old black American Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson.
Brown, who was unarmed, was shot at least six times, which Wilson said he did in self-defence.
The investigation will run concurrently with the department’s probe into the shooting of Brown on 9 August, which Holder said is “very active” but which will “take time”.
Police in Ferguson are already being sued for $40 million (£24 million) by people claiming the authorities beat them, showered them with rubber bullets and wrongfully arrested them during the riots in the St Louis suburb.
Separately, the Washington Post reported on Saturday that five current and one former member of the Ferguson police force are facing pending federal law suits claiming they used excessive force. The claims laid against them allege that in one incident officers “hog-tied” a 12-year-old boy, by tying his arms behind his back and his feet together, while he checked his family’s mail box; while others have alleged the officers had pistol-whipped children and also used a stun gun on man suffering from mental health issues, who later died as a result.
Holder said that if the civil rights inquiry finds any reason to expand its investigation to include additional police forces in neighbouring jurisdictions, “we will not hesitate to do so”.
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