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Justice Department to hear complaints about excessive force by Baltimore police

A hearing about excessive police force will be held Thursday night in Baltimore.

With many residents demanding an expansive probe of Baltimore's Police Department, the U.S. Justice Department will hold a public meeting Thursday to hear complaints about excessive force and other misconduct.

The meeting, which is part of the Justice Department's civil rights investigation of the Police Department, will help investigators determine whether officers engage in a pattern or practice of violating constitutional rights or discriminatory policing.

The meeting at the John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore starts at 7 p.m. The center holds 300 people, but two rooms will be used to handle overflow crowds if needed. A Spanish translator will be available, a law school spokeswoman said.

The investigation, which is expected to take more than a year to complete, could lead to a consent decree and years of oversight by the federal government.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch agreed to conduct the civil rights probe after Freddie Gray died in police custody and violence erupted.

During a visit to Baltimore last month, Lynch met with elected leaders, clergy and activists. She said the city had come to symbolize mistrust between police and residents — a problem in many U.S. cities. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake requested the probe.

Last fall, the Justice Department agreed to start a collaborative review of the Police Department through the federal agency's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The agreement followed a Baltimore Sun investigation that showed city taxpayers had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in court judgments and settlements in 102 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct. Officers had battered dozens of residents during questionable arrests, the investigation revealed, resulting in broken bones, head trauma, organ failure and death.

Work completed by consultants in the collaborative review will be included in the civil rights probe, officials said.

About 300 people attended a town hall meeting at Coppin State University in April to voice concerns about the police. Dozens of residents — most of them black — inundated federal officials with their assertions that Baltimore police have been brutalizing residents with impunity.

Frustrations simmered at the meeting as Gray remained in critical condition after suffering a spinal injury while being transported in a police van in West Baltimore. He died days later. Six officers face charges related to his death.

mpuente@baltsun.com

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