No Baltimore-DOJ settlement on police in coming weeks: mayor

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 22, 2016 11:39 AM

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A settlement between the U.S. Justice Department and Baltimore on reforming the city's troubled police department is unlikely before Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake leaves office next month, she said on Tuesday.

Responding to a query from Maryland congressional lawmakers about progress in the settlement talks, Rawlings-Blake said the issues were complex and such accords can take months, if not years, to conclude.

Baltimore, torn by rioting last year over the police-caused death of a black man, also has not received Justice Department drafts of its proposals, she said in a letter released by her office.

"Thus, it is extremely unlikely that any agreement can be concluded during the current Administration’s term," which ends on Dec. 5, she said.

Mayor-elect Catherine Pugh and the new City Council also will need time to review the talks, Rawlings-Blake said. Settlement talks had been expected to conclude by Nov. 1.

The Justice Department probe was launched after the 2015 death of a black man, Freddie Gray, from an injury in police custody.

Gray's death sparked rioting in the largely African-American city and fueled the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police brutality against minorities. Six police officers accused in Gray's death were either acquitted or charges were dropped.

A Justice Department report released in August found that the 2,600-member police department engaged in a pattern of conduct that violated the Constitution or federal law.

The congressional letter was sent on Monday to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Rawlings-Blake and Pugh. It was signed by Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, Senator-elect Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Elijah Cummings, Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes, all Democrats.

The lawmakers said they were hearing growing concern from constituents about delays in drafting the settlement.

Rawlings-Blake said she had received the legislators' letter just after a three-hour meeting with Justice Department officials.

A Justice Department spokesman said the lawmakers' letter was under review. Vanita Gupta, head of the department's civil rights division, said last month that both sides were working toward an accord as quickly as possible.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Dan Grebler)