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DOJ to investigate Phoenix Police Department, City of Phoenix over use-of-force

Merrick Garland, Kristen Clarke
Posted at 2:32 PM, Aug 05, 2021

PHOENIX, Ariz. — The U.S. Attorney General and the Justice Department announced Thursday that they have opened a top-to-bottom investigation into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department over use-of-force policies, general policing, and allegations of retaliation against protesters.

The Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. will conduct the "pattern or practice investigation."

The investigation will assess all types of use of force by Phoenix police officers, including deadly force.

The probe will also look into whether the department engages in retaliatory activity against people for conduct protected by the First Amendment, whether police engage in discriminatory policing, and whether officers unlawfully seize or dispose of the belongings of individuals experiencing homelessness.

Additionally, the investigation will assess the city's systems and practices for responding to people with disabilities.

“The investigation will include a comprehensive review of [the Phoenix Police Department's] policies, training, supervision, and force investigations, as well as [the department's] systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition, and discipline," the Department of Justice said in a news release.

The DOJ said it informed Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams, and other City officials of the investigation.

In a prepared statement following the DOJ's announcement, Mayor Gallego said she welcomed the investigation and would support the DOJ's review.

"Comprehensive reform of policing in the City of Phoenix has been my priority since the first day I took office. The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city," she said.

KNXV investigations contribute to DOJ action

The Phoenix Police Department has long been the subject of internal and external investigations and criticism for years regarding its use-of-force policies, the number of police shootings, and how the agency has responded to protests, despite constant promises of reform and improving community relations.

Sources tell KNXV that the station's reporting on protest cases has been specifically discussed with top DOJ officials.

As part of an ongoing KNXV investigation, "Politically Charged" focuses on protest arrests and prosecutions by Phoenix police and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

In February, KNXV's Dave Biscobing reported an investigation highlighting officials creating a "fictional gang" to punish Phoenix protesters.

Additionally, following the shooting of a protester in the groin, a special team of Phoenix police officers celebrated the shot with commemorative coins to sell and share.

A pair of outside investigations ordered by the City of Phoenix in response to KNXV’s reporting on police protest cases are finished and will be released publicly next week.

In March, documents showed Phoenix police spent hours monitoring protest leaders during a peaceful demonstration in October, calling the activists "targets" while surveilling them with drones, surveillance cameras, and vehicles.

Statements from officials

Attorney General Merrick Garland:

“When we conduct pattern or practice investigations to determine whether the Constitution or federal law has been violated, our aim is to promote transparency and accountability. This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.”

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke:

“One of the highest priorities of the Civil Rights Division is to ensure that every person in this country benefits from policing that is lawful, effective, transparent, and free from discrimination. Police officers across the country must use their authority in a manner that adheres to the Constitution, complies with federal civil rights laws, and respects human dignity.”

A portion of the Justice Department's statement:

"The investigation is being conducted pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law. The statute allows the Department of Justice to remedy such misconduct through civil litigation. This is the seventy-third investigation of a law enforcement agency conducted pursuant to this statute since it was enacted in 1994. The department will be assessing law enforcement practices under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as well as under the Safe Streets Act of 1968; Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego:

PLEA President Michael "Britt" London:

"The top priority of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association is to maintain a high standard of community policing, and promote ethical policies that protect police officers and our community. We are confident in the work of the Phoenix Police Department and our officers on the street, and we will fully cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation."

This story was originally published by staff at KNXV.