U.S. in deal to reform Baltimore police after Freddie Gray death

mural of late Freddie Gray in Baltimore A woman talks on her cell phone as she passes a mural of the late Freddie Gray in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

By Donna Owens

BALTIMORE (Reuters) – The city of Baltimore will enact a series of police reforms including changes in how officers use force and transport prisoners under an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department filed in federal court on Thursday.

The agreement comes almost two years after the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, of injuries sustained while in police custody sparked a day of rioting and arson in the majority-black city. It also led to an investigation that found the city’s police routinely violated residents’ civil rights.

Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the deal, which is subject to a judge’s approval, would be binding even after President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20.

“The reforms in this consent decree will help ensure effective and constitutional policing, restore the community’s trust in law enforcement, and advance public and officer safety,” Lynch told reporters, flanked by recently elected Mayor Catherine Pugh.

The 227-page consent decree agreement is the result of months of negotiations after a federal report released in August found that the city’s 2,600-member police department routinely violated black residents’ civil rights with strip searches, by excessively using force and other means.

The probe followed the April 2015 death of Gray, 25, who died of injuries sustained in the back of a police van. His was one of a series of high-profile deaths in U.S. cities from Ferguson, Missouri, to North Charleston, South Carolina, that sparked an intense debate about race and justice and fueled the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Department of Justice is scheduled to release the findings of its investigation into the Chicago Police Department on Friday in the Midwest city, local media reported. In Philadelphia on Friday, a report on reform efforts by the Philadelphia Police Department will be released, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

Prosecutors brought charges against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest but secured no convictions.

William Murphy Jr., an attorney who represented the Gray family in a civil suit against the city that led to a $6 million settlement, praised the deal.

“Make no mistake, today is a revolution in policing in Baltimore,” Murphy said.

The head of city’s police union was warier, saying his group had not been a part of the negotiations.

“Neither our rank and file members who will be the most affected, nor our attorneys, have had a chance to read the final product,” Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement.

City officials said union officials had been involved in talks early on but stopped attending meetings.

(Additional reporting by Timothy McLaughlin in Chicago. Editing by Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)

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