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DOJ launches probe of Seattle police

SEATTLE (AP) — The Justice Department today launched a formal civil rights investigation of the Seattle Police Department following the fatal shooting of a homeless woodcarver and other incidents of force used against minority suspects.

Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and the assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, Thomas E. Perez, held a conference call Thursday morning to discuss the investigation. Durkan previously said her office was reviewing the Seattle Police Department's actions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and 34 other community groups called for the inquiry after a Seattle officer shot and killed Native American woodcarver John T. Williams after he crossed a street downtown. The officer who shot Williams, Ian Birk, resigned from the force but was not charged criminally.

Other incidents captured on surveillance or police-cruiser video include officers using racial slurs and stomping on a prone Latino man; an officer kicking a non-resisting black youth in a convenience store; and officers tackling and kicking a black man who showed up in a police evidence room to pick up belongings after he was mistakenly released from jail.

ACLU of Washington spokesman Doug Honig welcomed the announcement.

“We think the DOJ has a lot of experience and expertise in dealing with situations like this around the country,” he said. “Our hope is that they can make recommendations that will help the city of Seattle curtail the use of excessive force in the future.”