The Department of Justice is launching a civil investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in unlawful policing in the wake of the murder trial and conviction of former Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
“Yesterday's verdict and the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday. “The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests.”
The investigation will also assess whether the MPD engages in discriminatory conduct and whether its treatment of people with behavioral health disabilities is unlawful, Garland said.
The announcement comes less than 24 hours after Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter for killing Floyd by putting his knee on Floyd’s neck — depriving him of oxygen — during an arrest on May 25, 2020. Chauvin’s bail was revoked and he was remanded to prison, where he will await sentencing.
In a statement after the verdict Tuesday, Garland said there is an ongoing federal civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death, separate from the civil investigation announced Wednesday.
"The jury in the state trial of Derek Chauvin has fulfilled its civic duty and rendered a verdict convicting him on all counts,” the statement said. “While the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death.”
The civil investigation will include a “comprehensive review of the Minneapolis Police Department’s policies, training, supervision and use of force investigations.”
“It will assess the effectiveness of the MPD’s current systems of accountability, and whether other mechanisms are needed to ensure constitutional and lawful policing,” Garland said. “Broad participation in this investigation from the community and from law enforcement will be vital to its success.”
In a statement to Yahoo News, the Minneapolis Police Department said that Chief Medaria Arradondo, who testified against Chauvin on April 5, welcomes the investigation and "will cooperate fully."
"The chief understands that the intent of this inquiry is to reveal any deficiencies or unwanted conduct within the department and provide adequate resources and direction to correct them," the statement said. "The chief has been insistent that he wants to make the MPD the best department possible."
The agency has been under scrutiny since video footage of Floyd’s death went viral last May. The incident touched off a summer of protests against police brutality in the U.S. and internationally, prompting national conversations about the role of law enforcement in communities and whether police departments should be defunded — meaning resources that typically go to those departments would be reallocated to other social services.
After Floyd’s death, Minneapolis city councillors introduced a proposal to replace the department with a new public safety department. But the plan fizzled amid a lack of support from other city leaders and also some residents who were concerned about spiking homicide rates.
The new civil investigation reiterates the Justice Department’s markedly different, and familiar, approach to addressing police misconduct compared with that of the Trump administration. Garland announced this month that he was rescinding a 2018 policy — established under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions — that essentially rolled back the agency’s use of consent decrees, which are court-enforced agreements aimed at ensuring that a police department accused of unlawful policing or misconduct implements changes recommended by the Justice Department.
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice entered 15 agreements with police agencies, ProPublica reported. The decrees often come after an investigation into a police department, which often follows an incident of excessive force, such as the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer in 2014, which prompted an investigation by the Justice Department a year later.
“The Justice Department also has the authority to bring a civil lawsuit, asking a federal court to provide injunctive relief that orders the MPD to change its policies and practices to avoid further violations,” Garland said Wednesday. “Usually when the Justice Department finds unlawful practices or patterns of practices, the local police department enters into a settlement agreement or a consent decree, to ensure that prompt and effective action is taken to align policing practices with the law.”
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