Interim Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan says DOJ findings a ‘gut punch’ for officers

Jun 13, 2024, 12:22 PM | Updated: 2:01 pm

PHOENIX —  Interim Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan said he knew the results from the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into his department would be difficult to swallow for his officers.

Sullivan, in an interview with KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show shortly after it was announced his department committed multiple civil rights violations, said conversations about the results of the investigation began as soon as he took his role in September 2022.

“I have been talking to officers for a long time about this because I knew what this day would feel like to them,” Sullivan said. “[I knew] it would truly feel like a gut punch and, you know, I’m sure that’s what’s out there today.”

What did DOJ investigation into Phoenix Police Department reveal?

The DOJ found that the department regularly used excessive force, unlawfully detained people experiencing homelessness, targeted minorities, violated rights of protesters and discriminated against people with behavioral health disabilities, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke said during a livestreamed press conference.

Conduct by the police department and city violated the Constitution’s first, fourth and 14th amendments, according to Clarke.

It’s the first time the DOJ found a pattern of discrimination against people experiencing homelessness, Clarke said, and the second time where Native Americans were targeted. The DOJ first announced it would launch the investigation in August 2021.

Sullivan, who said he hadn’t yet read the report, defended his officers.

“I’ve had three officers shot in line of duty this year,” Sullivan said. “I have an officer who was stabbed in the neck. They put themselves out there to protect the community and do the right thing and I’m confident that 99% of the time, that’s what we’re doing out there.”

What’s next for the Phoenix Police Department?

It’s not yet known what the consequences will be, but Clarke said the DOJ will negotiate with city officials to determine what actions will be taken.

Clarke applauded the department’s ongoing reform efforts under Sullivan but said more needs to be done.

Sullivan was hired to lead Phoenix Police through the DOJ investigation after previously leading police reform efforts for three years as deputy commissioner for the Baltimore Police Department.

A consent decree is typically used in such cases to advance police reform. City officials have said they intend to fight against the oversight of a consent decree, arguing it would create restrictions that impede ongoing reform efforts.

“These officers do incredibly dangerous, difficult work,” Sullivan said. “We need to love on them. We need to appreciate them.”

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Interim Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan says DOJ findings a ‘gut punch’ for officers