Consent decree hearing postponed to give Justice Department time to brief Trump administration on agreement

Department of Justice Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the DOJ and Baltimore City has reach a consent decree agreement. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

An initial court hearing on the pending consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore, scheduled for Tuesday, has been delayed more than a week after Justice Department officials asked for more time to brief the new Trump administration on the proposed police reform agreement.

"Because of the change in administration, the Department of Justice also experienced a transition in leadership," Justice Department officials wrote in a motion for continuance in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Friday, the day President Donald Trump was sworn into office in Washington. "The United States requires additional time in order to brief the new leadership of the Department on the case at bar and the proposed Consent Decree before making any representations to the Court."


The Justice officials said the motion was filed "in good faith and not for the purposes of delay."

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, who is presiding over the case, granted the motion, noting that the city had no objection to the delay. He rescheduled the hearing for 10 a.m. Feb. 1.

Bredar had called for the hearing earlier this week in a letter to Justice Department and city officials, in which he outlined dozens of questions he had on the proposed agreement.

He specifically asked Mayor Catherine Pugh to attend the hearing to discuss the lack of specific cost projections and how the expense will be covered. He also said some benchmarks and timelines for determining the Police Department's compliance are too vague and asked for more information on how requirements in the agreement compare to legal precedent and to provisions in the local police union's collective bargaining agreement with the city.

Bredar must accept the agreement for it to become binding, and will oversee the agreement along with a court-appointed monitor.

The Justice Department and the city signed the consent decree last week as a proposed settlement to a complaint filed by the Justice Department based on its lengthy investigation into the Baltimore Police Department. The investigation was launched after the April 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody. His death triggered rioting, looting and arson.

The investigation found Baltimore police routinely violated residents' constitutional rights, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods; used excessive force; improperly dismissed sexual assault complaints; mistreated youths and people with mental disabilities; and infringed on protesters' free-speech rights, among other violations.

Pugh and the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama had set Trump's inauguration as a deadline for the deal to be struck. Local elected officials and activists have expressed concerns the Trump administration would be less likely than the Obama administration to reach a deal. They have also expressed fears the Trump administration will try to back out of the deal.

Trump has expressed skepticism about the Obama administration's use of the Justice Department to investigate local police departments and then mandate reforms.

On Friday, a statement was posted on the White House website titled "Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community." It said the Trump administration "will empower our law enforcement officers to do their jobs and keep our streets free of crime and violence."

"The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong," it said. "The Trump Administration will end it."