WASHINGTON — The Justice Department will open a broad civil rights investigation into police practices in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager last month and set off days of racially charged unrest, the city’s police chief and other officials said Wednesday.
The inquiry will be in addition to an FBI civil rights investigation that is looking specifically into the shooting of the teenager, Michael Brown, on Aug. 9. It is expected to be announced soon, according to two federal government officials who were briefed on the plans.
The broader Justice Department inquiry will cover whether the police in Ferguson have a history of discrimination or misuse of force beyond the Brown case, one of the officials said, but the Justice Department has not ruled out expanding it to other St. Louis County departments. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation had not been formally announced.
The investigation was first reported by The Washington Post.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his aides first discussed such an investigation weeks ago, immediately after the death of Brown, 18, when reports surfaced that the Ferguson police force had previously been accused of abuse.
Ferguson’s police chief, Thomas Jackson, said Wednesday night that he would welcome the investigation.
“We have no intentional policies or procedures which discriminated or violated civil rights,” he said. “But if we have anything there which may unintentionally do that, we need to know about it.”
In the Ferguson case, the Justice Department will conduct what it calls a “pattern or practice” investigation, with officials looking for evidence that the police have repeatedly violated residents’ civil rights.
Under Holder, the Justice Department has opened 20 such investigations into police departments nationwide, more than twice the number opened in the five years before he took office. The inquiries can lead to agreements that give the Justice Department oversight of the police departments. The department has said it is enforcing 13 such agreements.
Brown was shot to death after Officer Darren Wilson, 28, stopped him for “walking down the street blocking traffic,” as Jackson put it. Nearby residents heard a number of gunshots, with Brown falling on his stomach, his arms at his sides and his head bloody. No official action has been taken against Wilson.
Protests immediately following Brown’s killing led to a riot, and violence continued for days as area police departments responded with a show of military-style force.