Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday that the Justice Department is launching a “pattern or practice” investigation into the Minneapolis police department.
“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, unlawful policing,” he said.
The Justice Department will assess whether the department has a pattern of using excessive force in arrests or at protests, whether the department’s officers engage in discriminatory conduct and whether its treatment of people with behavioral disabilities violates the law, Garland said.
Garland announced the investigation during public remarks Wednesday morning, acknowledging the death of George Floyd a day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of Floyd’s murder.
“I know such wounds have deep roots, Garland said. “And that too many communities have experienced those wounds, firsthand. Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address, potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis.”
He said the effort will be staffed by attorneys and others from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota and that the civil investigation would be separate from the federal criminal investigation into George Floyd’s death.
Garland said the DOJ “also has the authority to bring a civil lawsuit” and that when the DOJ “finds unlawful practices or patterns or 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.”
In his remarks, Garland acknowledged the long history of “the challenges we face.”
“They did not arise today, or last year, building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us. But we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait,” he said.
Garland had previously told during an interview he was “shocked” at the footage of George Floyd in custody when he first saw it and that the Justice Department is committed to using pattern or practice investigations to hold law enforcement accountable.
“I said in my Senate Judiciary Committee testimony that I thought that pattern-or-practice investigations are an important tool of the justice department to ensure police accountability and ensure that departments are using the best methods,” he said.
Garland waited until Wednesday to announce the probe so as not to influence the state trial against Chauvin, senior DOJ officials said.
Career officials in the DOJ’s Special Litigations Section had previously been in touch with stakeholders on the ground as part of a preliminary review of the Minneapolis Police Department practices, officials said, and those career officials made the recommendation that led to formally opening the civil investigation.
MPD was informed Wednesday morning that the investigation had been launched and has since issued a statement pledging cooperation, according to the officials.
The DOJ is already enforcing 16 settlements with law enforcement agencies, including 12 consent decrees that came out of previous pattern or practice investigations, according to a fact sheet provided by the Justice Department.
It has four open investigations that have been made public, including Wednesday’s newly announced probe.