Following the death of George Floyd and the murder convictions of ex-cop Derek Chauvin, Attorney General Merrick Garland revealed Wednesday that the Justice Department has opened a federal civil investigation into police practices in Minneapolis.
“The challenges we face are deeply woven into our history. They did not arise today, or last year; building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us,” Garland said at Justice Department headquarters. “But we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”
According to him, the large federal civil investigation would aim to see if the Minneapolis Police Department has “a trend or practice of illegal or unlawful policing.” It will involve a “thorough review” of the department’s “policies, instruction, oversight, and inquiries into the use of force.”
It will look at whether the Minneapolis Police Department uses unnecessary force during demonstrations or engages in “discriminatory actions,” as well as whether “the treatment of people with mental health disabilities is unconstitutional,” according to Garland.
The decision by the Justice Department comes after Chauvin was found guilty of Floyd’s murder. On May 25, 2020, a bystander video filmed Chauvin kneeling for 9 minutes and 29 seconds on the neck and back of Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man.
Chauvin faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, 25 years if convicted of third-degree murder, and 10 years if convicted of manslaughter. Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane, three other officers charged in Floyd’s murder, are set to go on trial in August.
According to the attorney general, the current civil investigation is separate from an independent federal criminal investigation into Floyd’s death, which was first revealed in May 2020 under the Trump administration and is still underway.
The Justice Department’s civil rights division and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota will oversee the civil investigation, according to Garland.
According to officials familiar with the matter, one aspect of the civil investigation may concentrate on the issuing of the original Minneapolis Police Department press release about Floyd’s death, which was not an accurate account of the arrest.
According to officials, Justice Department investigators will look at whether the Minneapolis Police Department has a history of misrepresenting contacts with the public.
Garland also stated that the Justice Department’s “systems of accountability,” which include “complaint intake, inquiry, examination, disposition, and discipline,” would be reviewed.
According to him, the Justice Department has also started reaching out to neighbourhood organizations and members of the public about their encounters with Minneapolis police.
Garland admitted that police officers have made mistakes “I firmly believe that good officers do not want to work in systems that encourage bad practices,” he added. Accountability is something that good officers appreciate.”
The Minneapolis City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey both issued statements on Wednesday praising the Justice Department’s investigation.
Frey called it “an opportunity to continue working toward deep change and accountability in the Minneapolis Police Department.” Although acknowledging their minimal control of the police department, the city council stated that it is “ready to assist in this process as full partners.” Following Floyd’s death, the city council voted last year to divert $7.77 million from the police budget to other services.
Floyd’s death sparked a year of demonstrations and reckoning about policing in the United States, with Democratic and progressive demands for change.
President Joe Biden called the Chauvin verdict “a way too unusual” move forward for Black men on Tuesday, adding, “We can’t stop here.” The trial, as well as other recent police shootings, has raised pressure on the Biden administration and US legislators to reform policies. Key Democratic and Republican lawmakers expect to hold constructive talks in the coming weeks to see whether a police reform settlement can be reached before Floyd’s death anniversary next month.
Garland promised to investigate the activities of police forces that commit civil rights abuses in a speech last week.
The Justice Department will use grants to help police departments around the country “transform their operations through support and technical assistance, leverage to encourage policing strategies that benefit communities and enhance trust,” Garland said at the time.
The attorney general also reversed a Trump-era order that prohibited the use of federal agreements with police departments where civil rights abuses were alleged.