Baltimore DOJ report: 'Lives Ruined'

Justice Department Baltimore report _00003408
Justice Department Baltimore report _00003408


    DOJ: African-American man stopped 30 times in 4 years


DOJ: African-American man stopped 30 times in 4 years 01:49

Story highlights

  • Justice Departments report details unconstitutional practices by Baltimore police
  • Black residents say they're long familiar with disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests
  • Public defender: "It's not just fixing the police ... but it's looking at how we can fix this deeply fractured city"

Baltimore (CNN)It took the Justice Department 164 pages to chronicle what Baltimore resident Alethea Booze said she has known all her life: Officers routinely abuse the city's majority African-American community.

"I've seen them search the fellows," Booze, 72, who lives a few doors from where Freddie Gray was arrested before his eventual death in police custody, said of the cops.
    "I've seen them push them down. It can be 10, 20 degrees and they will make them sit on that sidewalk. They will pull their pants down and they don't care if you was outside, if I'm outside, kids outside. ... I would say that's not right. You shouldn't do that and they tell me, if I don't shut up, they will lock me up."
    The scathing federal report, released this week, detailed what many Baltimore residents have long known: The unconstitutional practices of some of the city's 2,600 officers lead to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans, and excessive use of force against juveniles and people with mental health disabilities.
    "I will say there are plenty of cops who do an incredibly decent job in this city, but the amount of officers who walk around on a daily basis just disrespecting and treating people ... like they are not human beings is incredible to me," said Deborah Levi, a Baltimore public defender.
    The Department of Justice monitored the department's policing methods for more than a year after the 2015 death of Gray, who suffered a fatal injury while being transported in a police van.

    'You can't trust them'

    Booze remembered Gray's screams, his unheeded pleas for medical attention during his arrest.
    Baltimore resident Alethea Booze says cops routinely abuse the city's majority African-American community.
    "If you could have heard that child hollering," she recalled.
    Along with other residents, Booze said she left her home and walked down to the corner that day in April 2015. Gray's cries rose over a stretch of West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. A cop walked past a gathering crowd.
    "We said, 'Why don't you do something? Call the ambulance,'" she said. "He acted like he was afraid of the other officers."
    Gray's death touched off protests and riots in Baltimore and beyond, fueling an ongoing debate over racial bias in policing that has drawn the Justice Department's attention.
    The investigative report did not directly reference the actions of officers in the Gray case. But it noted that recent events underscored the importance of mutual trust between law enforcement and the people they serve, a recurring theme in DOJ investigations of police departments following police-involved deaths of African-Americans.
    "You can't trust them," Booze said of the city police.
    The long-awaited report, which covered data from 2010 to 2016, attributed the practices to "systemic deficiencies" in training, policies and accountability structures that "fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively." Its release came weeks after charges were dropped against the remaining officers facing trial in Gray's death.

    Freddie Gray's legacy

    The department's "us-versus-them" mentality resulted in cops treating the city like a war zone, the report said.
    "You've got to be the baddest motherf----- out there," one officer told federal investigators.
    Levi said the Justice Department findings validated what many defense lawyers have known for a long time. She recalled a case last year in which a man was "stopped for walking in the other direction" and "searched for sweating in July."
    A former third-grade teacher, Levi said any change from the report will be part of Gray's legacy.
    "Everybody turned their attention inward to say we have to do something to fix it," she said.
    "And if people with a real sense of humanity can get together and say it's not just fixing the police department and getting out the bad seeds, but it's looking at how we can fix this deeply fractured city."
    With about 621,000 residents, Baltimore remains one of the most segregated cities in the country -- a fact that impacts, in part, how officers do their jobs, according to the DOJ report.
    The city is about 63% African-American, 30% white and 4% Latino.

    'Change is painful'

    Baltimore and the Justice Department have agreed to negotiate a court-enforceable consent decree that will prescribe steps for reform, in addition to steps that Baltimore already has taken.
    "Change is painful," Police Commissioner Kevin Davis told reporters this week. "Growth is painful. But nothing is as painful as being stuck in a place that we do not belong."
    Davis vowed zero tolerance for cops who "choose to engage in racist, sexist, discriminatory or biased-based policing." The officers behind the most egregious examples cited in the report already have been removed from the job, he said.
    Rudolph Jackson, 52, was sitting Thursday on the stoop of a formstone rowhouse near the spot where Gray was put into the back of a police van more than a year ago. A recovering addict, Jackson said he has been clean six months.
    At times, the neighborhood felt like it was under martial law, he said.
    Rudolph Jackson, 52, sits on the stoop of a rowhouse near the spot where Freddie Gray was put into the back of a police van more than a year ago.
    Jackson said police would stop him about three times a week.
    "They want to take you to the side and look up in your privates," he said.
    "That's degrading when you are out on the street. They will say something derogatory when they leave."
    The DOJ report said the department's "zero tolerance" strategy, which started in the early 2000s, encouraged discretionary enforcement, including stops, searches and arrests for misdemeanor offenses like loitering and disorderly conduct.

    Lives ruined

    "This enforcement strategy focused on African-Americans and predominantly African-American neighborhoods for discretionary enforcement actions, and it led to officers frequently stopping, searching and arresting individuals without the required constitutional justification," the report said.
    "We also found evidence of officers using racial slurs or making other statements exhibiting bias ... against African-Americans."
    Jackson said he was often arrested after being found with empty bags of marijuana or cocaine vials. He would be booked for possession of drug paraphernalia and sit in jail for weeks before the charges were dropped in court.
    Being black made you a target, Jackson said.
    "They feel you don't look right, you don't walk right, you don't look like you belong in this area, you get stopped," he said.
    Levi, the public defender, said city jails are filled with those whose lives have been ruined, in part, by Baltimore policing.
    "They lose everything while they are sitting in jail," she said.
    "They lose any assisted housing that they have. They lose any stability, their children lose any sense of stability. They lose the clothes off of their back. They come out of jail with literally nothing ... and it trickles down to the smallest members of their family and the oldest."