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DOJ issues scathing report of civil rights abuses by Chicago Police Department

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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Police Department has unconstitutionally engaged in a pattern of excessive and deadly force, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday, wrapping up a 13-month federal probe of a department that has been under heavy scrutiny over officer-involved shootings.

As a result of the probe, the city and the Justice Department have agreed to negotiate a reform plan that would be overseen by a federal judge, Lynch said in Chicago.

Chicago police officers' use of excessive force, she said, stemmed in large part from what the Justice Department found were severely insufficient training and accountability procedures -- including failing to train officers to de-escalate situations.

"The resulting deficit in trust and accountability is not just bad for residents -- it's also bad for dedicated police officers trying to do their jobs safely and effectively," Lynch said.

"We are laying the groundwork for the difficult but necessary work of building a stronger, safer and more united Chicago for all who call it home."

Friday's announcement comes more than two years after the fatal shooting by Chicago police of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, whose case spurred protests and helped fuel a national conversation about police officers' use of deadly force.

It also comes a day after the Justice Department announced a deal on a plan to reform police policies in Baltimore, after a similar investigation found that police there searched and arrested a disproportionate number of African-Americans and used excessive force against juveniles.

Shooting at fleeing suspects

The Justice Department released a 161-page report Friday on its Chicago probe. It found that Chicago police:

• Shot at fleeing suspects who presented no immediate threat

• Shot at vehicles without justification

• Used less-lethal force, including Tasers, against people who posed no threat

• Used force to retaliate against and punish people

• Used excessive force against juveniles

Chicago police under scrutiny for shootings

The Justice Department began investigating Chicago police in December 2015 in the wake of several high-profile cases of alleged police misconduct, including the death of McDonald.

McDonald, a black teen, was shot 16 times as he walked away from officers in October 2014. His death went largely unacknowledged until November 2015, when a judge ordered the release of dashboard camera footage that contradicted officers' accounts of the shooting.

Just before the video was released, Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder; he pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

The video outraged many Chicagoans, who took to the streets to protest what they felt was an excessive use of force and dishonesty by police who initially accused McDonald of threatening them.

In the fallout of the case, the police superintendent resigned and many called for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to do the same. But Emanuel held firm and vowed to repair the department's trust with the African-American community.

Emanuel had said of the DOJ investigation back in 2015: "We accept it, and we need it."

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'No regard for the sanctity of life'

The mayor created an independent task force to examine the police force, which released a report in April that accused the department of institutional racism and described its accountability system as broken.

That report said police "have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color" and have alienated blacks and Hispanics with the use of force and a longstanding code of silence.

As the department has grappled with allegations of excessive force, it also has battled a soaring homicide rate. Chicago had a staggering 762 murders in 2016, marking the city's deadliest year in nearly two decades.

Under increasing criticism, the Chicago Police Department has pledged changes, including how it trains officers on the use of force.

Last year, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced that all police officers soon would be required to wear body cameras and that 970 additional sworn positions would be added over the next two years to provide "new blood" to the department.

In addition to the human toll, the alleged police misconduct has weighed heavily on the city coffers in terms of settlements. Chicago spent nearly $642 million on alleged police misconduct from 2004 through 2015, according to a Better Government Association analysis.

WGN’s Ben Bradley has been in contact with former police superintendent Garry McCarthy. In response to Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s claim that their investigators couldn’t track him down for an interview, he said: “That is a lie. With all the resources of their investigation, they can’t find me?”