ARIZONA NEWS

Department of Justice opens civil rights investigation of Phoenix Police

Aug 5, 2021, 11:51 AM | Updated: 2:43 pm
phoenix police department yellow tape...
(Facebook File Photo/Phoenix Police Department)
(Facebook File Photo/Phoenix Police Department)

PHOENIX – The U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday that it’s investigating the Phoenix Police Department and the city over potential civil rights violations and abuses of power.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will review the police department’s use-of-force practices. It will also look for patterns of retaliation over activity protected under the First Amendment and discrimination against people with disabilities or who are homeless.

“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,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press release.

“This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.”

The DOJ reviewed media reports, court files and citizen complaints before deciding to move forward with the Phoenix probe.

“We found that the evidence here warrants a full investigation, but we approach this process with no predispositions or predrawn conclusions,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said during a press conference.

Clarke didn’t get into details about specific allegations, but she said investigators will review, among other things, whether police have been seizing or throwing away personal property during sweeps of homeless encampments.

She said that if civil rights violations are confirmed, the DOJ will work with the city on implementing remedies or, if necessary, take legal action to enforce the changes.

“We are pleased that Mayor (Kate) Gallego and Chief (Jeri) Williams have pledged their full support,” Clarke said.

Gallego issued a statement welcoming the probe.

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

“Along with the city manager and chief of police, I stand ready to support the USDOJ throughout this review process.”

Williams agreed with mayor.

“The Department of Justice inquiry is another opportunity to further improve the department and better serve our city,” she said during an afternoon press conference.

Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia, who has been pushing for police reform since he joined the City Council and was an activist prior to his election, said in a statement that the DOJ interest “is a clear message that this department is unfit to serve our community and further validates the violence and mistrust that our community has been experiencing.”

He added, “I hope this is a clear message to some of my colleagues who’ve diminished this problem as we’ve called for accountability.”

Councilman Sal DiCiccio, a staunch police supporter, issued a statement saying the department “has been under extreme attack by activists bent on defunding the police” but he expects a positive outcome from the federal inquiry.

“I welcome another set of eyes to see what we already know: that we have a department staffed by dedicated individuals who go to great lengths to protect our community, and do so honorably and fairly,” he said.

Britt London, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, said in a statement his organization was confident in Phoenix PD’s work and would “fully cooperate” with federal investigators.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department announced it was opening similar investigations into police forces in Minneapolis, after the death of George Floyd, and in Louisville, Kentucky, after the death of Breonna Taylor.

The Phoenix probe will include a review of the police department’s policies, training and oversight. Investigators will also reach out to Phoenix community groups and members of the public about their experiences with police.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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