Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a broad prescription for reforms in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in police custody, saying the Minneapolis Police Department signed an agreement that put it under the oversight of an independent monitor.
The Ministry of Justice recommends 28 measures to crack down on violations of civil rights, including retaliation for freedom of expression and discrimination against people with disabilities.
“To the credit of MPD and city leaders, some important changes have already been put in place,” Garland said Friday at a news conference. “They include bans on all forms of neck restraints and bans on search warrants. But as the report outlines, there is more work to be done.”
The AG first announced his investigation shortly after the Chauvin verdict, saying he would look for a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional or illegal police activity.”
At the press conference, Garland shared the stage with his third-in-command Vanita Gupta, his civilian division chief Kristen Clarke, First Assistant US Attorney Ann Bildtsen for the District of Minnesota, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara.
Congress authorized the Justice Department to conduct investigations aimed at reforming police departments in 1994, about three years after and in response to the Rodney King riots. “Pattern or practice” investigations are sometimes known as “14141 cases,” after the US Code section that authorizes such investigations. Under the Obama administration, such investigations were relatively frequent: His Justice Department opened 11 of them and negotiated about 19 reform agreements from 2012 to the start of 2017.
These included consent decrees and other agreements in Ferguson, Missouri; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Cleveland, Ohio; Seattle, Washington; New Orleans, Louisiana; Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
Under the Trump administration, “pattern or practice” investigations fell out of favor and abuse. His Justice Department emphasized his focus on defending police against allegations of wrongdoing, though Trump’s critics called his “law and order” messages less about supporting police than protecting impunity.
Garland’s announcement on Friday appeared to herald a revival of a police reform tool, and Gupta — an Obama administration alum — emphasized that she knows their effectiveness from experience.
“Through decades of experience, we’ve learned — and I’ve seen — firsthand that consent decrees can lead to real and lasting change,” Gupta said.
Chauvin racked up state and federal convictions for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds on May 25, 2020. Both of those cases ended in sentences of decades in prison.
Examining the tactics that led to Floyd’s tragic death, the Justice Department’s investigation found that Minneapolis police overused head restraints.
“Neck restraints are deadly force, and we found that MPD officers often use head restraints without warning on people who are only suspected of minor offenses and on people who posed no threat,” said Clarke, the Biden administration’s civil rights chief.
Focusing on racial discrimination, Clarke said MPD “unlawfully discriminates against blacks in its enforcement activities.”
“This is a first-time finding for us — that the police department is also discriminating against Native Americans in its enforcement activities,” she said.
The Department of Justice reviewed five years of MPD data from November 1, 2016 to August 9, 2022 on approximately 187,000 traffic and pedestrian stops.
This is a development story.
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