The outcome upset lawyers for the Rice family, especially after the disclosure that the prosecutor apparently permitted the police officers to read prepared statements before the grand jury without cross-examining them. The Rice family asked for a federal civil-rights investigation, and the Justice Department said it was conducting a review.
Since then, Cleveland agreed in 2016 to pay $6 million to the Rice family to settle a lawsuit, and Officer Loehmann was fired in 2017. But the Justice Department has been largely silent about what was happening with its investigation.
Current and former officials familiar with the matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, described a dysfunctional and delayed effort. They spoke in response to inquiries by The New York Times after it learned that David Z. Seide, a lawyer representing a person familiar with the case, filed a whistle-blower complaint with the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, accusing the department of mishandling the matter.
Mr. Seide, a senior counsel at the Government Accountability Project, which assists whistle-blowers, approached The Times after the inspector general’s office informed him last week that it would not investigate the complaint. Lawmakers have not empowered Mr. Horowitz to scrutinize allegations of ethical violations and professional misconduct by department lawyers. (Congress is weighing legislation to expand his jurisdiction; Mr. Barr has objected to it.)
The case stagnated throughout 2016, the final year of the Obama administration, according to the interviews, including with Mr. Seide’s client. One factor, several people said, was that federal law enforcement officials in Ohio were reluctant to further pursue Officer Loehmann.
The Justice Department had obtained a so-called consent decree to overhaul the Cleveland Police Department on matters like training and wanted to focus on such systemic issues. In addition, officials recognized that it would be difficult to prove intent to meet the legal standard to convict the officer of a federal civil-rights crime, they said.
Other people familiar with the case said another problem caused delays: The civil rights division needed to gather and review local investigative files. Local officials, they said, had dragged their feet in turning over all the evidence.