“The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis police department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force,” Garland told reporters on Wednesday. He said his department has been reaching out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with the Minneapolis police.
The move comes the day after a White former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of killing Floyd, an unarmed Black man, when he knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes in May 2020. The video of that killing ignited a summer of rage and the greatest racial reckoning in the U.S. since the 1960s.
The action is significant because it represents a renewed push by the Justice Department to use “pattern or practice” investigations to force police departments to make reforms. Those investigations had been largely abandoned during the Trump administration.
A pattern or practice probe can end in a consent decree between a police department and the Justice Department, which can effectively force reforms on the police. The Justice Department already has an ongoing investigation into whether Chauvin and other police officers violated federal civil rights laws.
Garland said the probe is being undertaken, in part, to help rebuild trust between police and the communities they serve, and he pledged that a public report would be filed at the end of the investigation if it concludes there is “reasonable cause” to believe there is unlawful policing.
“I know that justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive and sometimes never comes,” Garland said. “The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law.”
A jury on Tuesday convicted Chauvin of second-degree murder and lesser charges for killing Floyd as he lay handcuffed and repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe.
The Justice Department waited until the trial was over before officially deciding to open the probe, department officials told reporters on Wednesday. The Minneapolis police department was notified of the investigation earlier in the day and has pledged to cooperate, the officials said.
The investigation is being led by career personnel with the civil rights division and the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota and isn’t being driven by politics, the officials said. It wasn’t clear how long the probe would take, the officials added. Other probes have taken months or more than a year.
(Updates with timing of probe starting in ninth paragraph.)
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