Judge denies US request to delay Baltimore police reform hearing
Judge giving a verdict (Shutterstock)

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected the Department of Justice's request to delay a hearing scheduled for Thursday on a settlement to reform the city's troubled police department after the 2015 death of a black man in custody.

U.S. District Judge James Bredar wrote that the request filed on Monday came at the "eleventh hour" after significant resources and planning went into holding an unusual public hearing on the merits of the proposed agreement. He also noted that the Justice Department had not offered any evidence that holding the hearing as scheduled would harm its interests.

"The primary purpose of this hearing is to hear from the public; it would be especially inappropriate to grant this late request for a delay when it would be the public who were most adversely affected by a postponement," he wrote.

The request on Monday came as Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of all federal reform agreements with police departments across the country, a move that alarmed civil rights advocates fearful that the administration of President Donald Trump will pull back on efforts to combat police abuses.

But Wednesday's court order also emphasized the role that federal judges will play in monitoring ongoing reform efforts, which are typically imposed as part of consent decrees that require court approval.

The Baltimore consent decree was hammered out between city officials and the Justice Department in the final days of the administration of former President Barack Obama after a federal investigation found widespread constitutional violations, particularly in the way that police treated minorities.

That probe was launched after the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who was fatally injured while being transported in a police van.

The city had opposed the Justice Department's request for a three-month delay, and officials on Tuesday had vowed to pursue reforms with or without federal support.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on Wednesday. On Tuesday, a spokesman had said Sessions "agrees with the need for police reform" in Baltimore and that the delay would simply give the Justice Department a chance to review the consent decree further.

In a statement, Mayor Catherine Pugh said, "The city of Baltimore is ready to move forward to rebuild the important relationship which exists between the community and our police department. The crucial next step of receiving public input occurs tomorrow."

Thursday's hearing is expected to draw hundreds of people.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)