DOJ's Baltimore consent decree pause denied by judge

A US District Court judge has denied Attorney General Jeff Sessions' request to postpone a settlement hearing to reform the Baltimore Police Department. In a city that became emblematic of police abuse, excessive force and callous treatment of young black men, Baltimore's mayor and commissioner say they are eager and ready to change not only the culture of law enforcement, but the practice. But the consent decree is crucial to ensure the Police Department receives necessary funding to improve training and technology for officers, implement change in a timely manner, and hold leaders accountable, he said. Throughout, the BPD and the city's leadership have repeatedly stated that without immediate and strong reforms, the mostly Black and brown communities most brutalized by police have no reason to trust police - undermining public safety.

"Please move forward on this".

One should not take Donald Trump literally when he says he will leave most police matters to the states and cities.

Several speakers denounced racist and discriminatory policing affecting black residents in Baltimore.

Supporters of the consent decree also say it would benefit Baltimore police officers.

The hearing began at 9:30 a.m. and was scheduled to wrap up at 5 p.m.

Signed by the attorney general and directed to the department heads at Justice and to USA attorneys across the country, it directs the deputy attorney general and the associate attorney general to review all collaborative arrangements between Justice and local police departments, including consent decrees "existing or contemplated".

"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.

In January, Pugh and then U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch announced the consent decree in a joint press conference. Taken literally, that's unquestionably true, and the Obama Department of Justice wouldn't have disagreed. It is now up to Bredar to approve the decree, and that decision could come at any time.

He said Justice Department officials made their request "without a whole lot of justification".

There was also testimony from two mothers whose sons were killed in incidents with police. In what seemed like a reference to Sessions' skepticism of consent decrees, a lawyer representing Baltimore said on Thursday that he wasn't sure people were actually looking at the text of the consent decree, which include provisions for amendments.

Davis says the department can enact reforms itself, but change won't come at the pace that it is needed without such an agreement.

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

"Please do not delay it", she said.

The department's request is particularly reprehensible because it comes days before a long-planned public hearing in which the court will hear directly from Baltimore residents about their views.

Last month, a dozen organizations and about 50 individual residents submitted written comments, critiques and recommendations on the proposed consent decree.

Because the police departments aren't normally distinct legal entities suing and being sued, they aren't parties who can join the Trump Department of Justice in seeking revision of the consent decrees.

Others who took to the podium included a retired police officer from a Baltimore suburb who lives in the city, a lawyer who said an officer threatened "to pull me through the window of my car" during a traffic stop and a resident who said she watched children playing and heard one boy pretending to be a police officer yell, "Get out of your auto or I'll shoot you".

Wednesday's ruling does not guarantee that the Justice Department will enter into the agreement with the Baltimore police, but the public will now have the chance to weigh in on the reforms at an earlier date.

  • Larry Hoffman