The Justice Department will begin a civil rights investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri police department, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Thursday.
The investigation, which will be led by the agency’s Office of Civil Rights, will look into whether the police departments’ policies have engaged in a pattern of civil rights violations.
“Following an extensive review of documented allegations and other available data, we have determined that there is cause for the Justice Department to open an investigation to determine whether Ferguson police officials have engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the United States Constitution or federal law,” said Holder.
To determine if the “pattern and practice” violation exists, the DOJ will analyze records of Ferguson police department stops, searches, and arrests, as well as the treatment of individuals detained at Ferguson jails.
The scrutiny is a response to the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.
Brown was unarmed when he was shot, and his family insists that he was surrendering when Wilson opened fire. Wilson has reportedly claimed that Brown punched him in the face and tried to grab his weapon. An unofficial autopsy determined that Brown was hit by six bullets, all to the front of the body.
Holder said that when he visited Ferguson last month, he heard numerous residents tell stories of unfair treatment by city police, saying that the trip “was invaluable from my own perspective to have ascertained in a very personal way a sense of what the situation was there.”
“I heard from them directly about the deep mistrust that has taken hold between law enforcement officials and members of that community in meetings as well as listening sessions, as well as informal conversations,” Holder said.
“People consistently expressed concerns stemming from specific alleged incidents, from general policing practices, and from a lack of diversity on the Ferguson police force.”
With Thursday’s announcement, the DOJ now has two investigations surrounding the shooting. The agency is looking into whether Wilson violated Brown’s civil rights.
Holder said in his prepared remarks that Ferguson’s mayor, police chief and city manager have been informed of the upcoming investigation and plan to be helpful.
“They have welcomed this investigation, and they have pledged their complete cooperation,” Holder said.
Asked whether he worried that the investigation will have an impact on the grand jury convened to weigh the evidence against Wilson, Holder said he was confident that it would not.
“I think that these are separate matters,” Holder said.
Holder was also asked about another similar Justice Department investigation – of George Zimmerman, which the agency started soon after Zimmerman was acquitted last July in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Holder said that the investigation was still ongoing and that the DOJ is still attempting to interview witnesses.