By Chris Kenning
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Members of Black Lives Matter and other groups sued the city of Chicago on Wednesday, seeking to force federal court oversight of reforms to the police Department, which has been accused of using excessive force against minorities.
The lawsuit, filed by civil rights attorneys in the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois, came after Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed off a pledge to let a federal judge oversee reforms.
The lawsuit asks the court to intervene to ensure reforms will halt what it described as the ongoing use of excessive force, physical harassment and targeting of minority youth and a reliance on overly aggressive tactics by Chicago police.
"Chicago has proven time and time again that it is incapable of ending its own regime of terror, brutality and discriminatory policing," the lawsuit said. "Absent federal court supervision, nothing will improve."
In January, a federal investigation found Chicago police routinely violated the civil rights of people and cited excessive force and racially discriminatory conduct.
That followed protests sparked by the fall 2015 release of a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting black teen Laquan McDonald a year earlier.
After the federal probe's findings were released in January, Emanuel committed to a consent decree, which would be overseen by the federal courts. But since then, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of such decrees and said they could undermine police morale.
Earlier this month, Emanuel said Chicago was discussing an agreement with the Justice Department that would include an independent monitor instead seeking to have a federal judge oversee reforms.
Edward Siskel, the city's top lawyer, on Wednesday said it was the Justice Department that backed away from consent decrees but said the city agrees with the need for reform including some independent accountability.
"The substance of the reforms we're all trying to achieve is not really in question," he said. "It is matters of process that we are discussing."
He noted that Chicago has already made some changes, including adopting a new use-of-force policy that restricts when police can use deadly or other force.
But the shift away from using court oversight drew criticism from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and activist groups.
The plaintiffs in Wednesday's lawsuit include Black Lives Matter Chicago, as well as the groups Blocks Together, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Justice for Families, Network 49, Women's All Points Bulletin, 411 Movement for Pierre Loury, and six individuals.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)