Michael Brown shooting: Ferguson police department to be investigated
Juvenile records for the victim sought by 2 organizations
The U.S. Justice Department plans to open an investigation into the practices of the Ferguson Police Department following a white officer's shooting last month of an unarmed black 18-year-old in the Missouri town, a person briefed on the matter said Wednesday night.
The person said the investigation could be announced as early as Thursday. Missouri officials were notified Wednesday of the investigation.
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The investigation will look at the practices of the police department, including patterns of stops, arrests and use-of-force, as well as the training the officers receive, the person said.
The investigation is separate from an ongoing civil rights investigation the Justice Department is conducting into the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.
A local grand jury is also investigating the shooting, which set off nearly two weeks of unrest in the St. Louis suburb and became a flashpoint in the national discussion of police treatment of minorities across the country. Attorney General Eric Holder two weeks ago visited Ferguson, where he sought to reassure residents about the Justice Department investigation and shared personal experiences of having been mistreated by police.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation, first reported by The Washington Post, had not yet been announced.
Police have said a scuffle broke out after Wilson, who is white, told Brown and a friend to move out of the street and onto a sidewalk. Police say Wilson was pushed into his squad car and physically assaulted. Some witnesses have reported seeing Brown's arms up in the air before the shooting, an apparent sign of surrender. An autopsy paid for by Brown's family concluded that he was shot six times, twice in the head.
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The Justice Department's civil rights division routinely investigates individual police departments when there are allegations of systemic abuse or other problems. The department, for instance, issued a scathing report in April that faulted Albuquerque, New Mexico, police for a pattern of excessive force and called for the police to overhaul its internal affairs unit and change policies on deadly encounters.
Many of the investigations end with a federal mandate to make significant changes to policies and practices.
Relevance of juvenile records
Meanwhile, two news organizations sought the release of juvenile records for Brown on Wednesday.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a California online journalist, Charles C. Johnson of Gotnews.com filed separate petitions in St. Louis County Family Court to determine whether Brown had past legal trouble. Both cited an overriding public right to know Brown's background after his shooting death by Wilson sparked more the violent protests and international scrutiny.
The Post-Dispatch reported that during disclosures in session on Wednesday, a representative for the county's juvenile office said Brown had never been charged with Class A or B felonies, which see a juvenile charged as an adult.
The 45-minute hearing before a St. Louis County family court judge didn't reveal whether Brown had ever been charged with lesser offenses as a juvenile, or charged with a more serious crime that resulted in a finding of delinquency — the juvenile court equivalent of a conviction.
Juvenile records are confidential in Missouri, but under state law, being charged with certain violent crimes removes those juvenile privacy protections. Police have said Brown had no adult criminal record.
Joe Martineau, an attorney for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, cited an overriding public right to know Brown's history.
"There is interest in knowing Michael Brown's background," Martineau said. "What we're asking for here is just verification, one way or the other ... We're acting in a vacuum here."
Cynthia Harcourt, St. Louis County juvenile office's attorney, said that "simple curiosity" doesn't trump the state's legal interest in protecting minors accused of crimes.
"The court of public opinion does not require the release of juvenile records," she said.
Judge Ellen Levy Siwack did not indicate how long she would take before releasing a ruling.
An attorney for the Brown family, Anthony Gray, called the effort to get the records "shameful" and motivated by "character assassination."
Also on Wednesday, a grand jury was scheduled to meet for the third time since Brown's death to consider evidence in a possible criminal case. The U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division also is investigating the police shooting.