WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department is launching a civil rights probe into the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, several weeks after a white officer shot an unarmed black teenager, sparking racial unrest, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Citing two federal law enforcement officials, the Post said the investigation would also look at the practices of other police departments in St. Louis County.
The investigation could be announced as soon as Thursday afternoon and will be conducted by the department’s civil rights division, the Post said.
The Justice Department has already begun a civil rights investigation into the deadly Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The Post said the new probe “will look more broadly at whether the department employed policies and practices that resulted in a pattern of civil rights violations.”
A St. Louis County grand jury has begun hearing evidence in the shooting, which sparked violent protests in the St. Louis suburb and drew global attention to race relations in the United States.
The incidents highlighted the racial divide in Ferguson, a majority black community of 21,000 residents where almost all the police force and local politicians are white. Civil rights activists say Brown’s death followed years of police targeting blacks.
Police in Ferguson came under sharp criticism, especially in the first several days of demonstrations, for arresting dozens of protesters and using heavy-handed tactics and military gear widely seen as provoking more anger and violence by protesters.
(Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Ken Wills)
[Image: Police officers react at the scene of a looting at the Dellwood Market after protests against the shooting of Michael Brown turned violent near Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 17, 2014. By Lucas Jackson for Reuters]