Judge denies U.S. request to delay Baltimore police reform hearing

Posted April 06, 2017

CLEVELAND A memo by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking the Department of Justice to review the agency's investigations of local police departments will not alter a court-ordered agreement between the DOJ and Cleveland to reform its police department, city officials and the judge overseeing a court-monitored consent decree said.

The judge's order was tailored specifically to the hearing in Baltimore, but could signal complications for Sessions as he seeks to review agreements already entered into federal courts with earlier Justice Department cooperation.

While Sessions doesn't outline which police departments will fall under his review, city officials say the SPD, now in its fifth year under federal oversight, is too far along in its reform process to have the Trump administration shut things down.

U.S. District James Bredar rejected the request Wednesday, saying in his order that pushing back the hearing "at the eleventh hour" would be a "burden and inconvenience to the court, other parties, and most importantly, the public".

Vanita Gupta, who ran the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama and negotiated the Baltimore consent decree, told the New York Times it was "unclear" whether Sessions could withdraw from that agreement.

The Justice Department would have to convince either judge to sign off on any major alterations to the NOPD and Sheriff's Office consent decrees. He did not address the broader argument in the Justice Department's request for a continuance, that top officials in the new Trump administration needed more time to review the proposed deal, which was struck in the waning days of the Obama administration. The city's mayor and police chief said on Monday that they oppose any delay in the process.

"The primary goal 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.

"That becomes a more critical issue in a city like New Orleans, where there is a manpower crisis", Goyeneche added.

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The investigation into Baltimore's police force was sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal injury while being transported in a police van.

What is encouraging to those fighting to keep local police under local control is that 25 other "investigations" instigated during the Obama administration are likely to be put on the back burner under the new Trump administration. We suspect that Sessions is motivated in no small part by President Donald Trump's drive to halt the questioning of police actions such as those in which officers are captured on video shooting or fatally restraining unarmed civilians.

The issue arose after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that he'll review the effectiveness of existing and proposed consent decrees.

He complained that consent decrees make police officers look like villains, when "the vast majority of police officers are performing heroically every day".

The city "has made progress toward reform on its own and, as a effect, it may be possible to take these changes into account where appropriate to ensure future compliance while protecting public safety", the department said, noting that there is a need for police reform in Baltimore.

"It's that type of investigative tool that, for whatever reason or for many reasons, Baltimore has chosen over the years not to invest in that technology", Davis said.

Stoughton points to examples like Ferguson, where the city was over-policing poor, minority communities and using fines for misdemeanors as a major revenue source, and NY, where the NYPD's stop and frisk policy was ultimately ruled unconstitutional because it unfairly targeted people of color. So it's not going to matter if the Justice Department pulls out of Seattle, because we're doing it.