The Department of Justice will open an investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in illegal conduct, including civil rights violations, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday.
Mr. Garland announced the decision a day after former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd during an arrest last year.
“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial doesn’t address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis. Today, I am announcing that the Justice Department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing,” Mr. Garland said.
The “pattern or practice” probe will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department uses excessive force, including during last year’s racial justice protests, engages in discriminatory conduct, and will review the department’s treatment of those with behavioral health issues, Mr. Garland said.
Investigators from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division already have spoken with police officers and potential victims in the city, the attorney general said, adding he hopes for “broad” public participation.
Investigators are working to determine if the department is engaging in practices that have allowed systemic wrongdoing to run unchecked.
The Justice Department’s conclusions will be released in a report.
Police departments that were the subject of similar investigations during the Obama administration typically entered into a consent decree with the Justice Department, giving the government oversight of local police departments for years.
Consent decrees have been long favored by civil rights activists as a solution when departments are accused of wrongdoing. They say it is an effective tool to prevent bad behavior.
The Trump administration backed away from consent decrees, arguing they hamstring police from effectively carrying out their jobs. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018 wrote a memo sharply curtailing the use of consent decrees.
Mr. Garland said Tuesday that the probe, which is also looking at the three other officers involved in Floyd’s death, will proceed despite Chauvin’s conviction.
That probe, which began under former Attorney General William Barr, is focused on whether Chauvin and the other officers violated Floyd’s civil rights during the arrest.
In February, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the department has called witnesses and impaneled a grand jury. The paper also reported that the investigation had zeroed in on Chauvin, not the other three officers facing state charges for Floyd’s death.
In a joint statement, Minneapolis City Council members said they “fully support” the new probe, adding the Justice Department will use its “full weight of authority to hold the Minneapolis Police Department accountable for any and all abuses of power and harms to our community.”
One city council member, Alondra Cano, did not sign the statement. In a Twitter post, Ms. Cano said she planned to meet with the city attorney to learn more about the “unexpected” development.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey released a statement hailing the investigation, calling it a “generational opportunity” to improve life for Black residents.
“This is a defining moment of truth and reconciliation in America,” he said. “George Floyd’s life mattered just as Daunte Wright’s, Breonna Taylor’s and so many others did.”
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