The Justice Department said Friday that Minneapolis police systematically discriminated against Black and Native Americans, used deadly force without justification, and trampled on the First Amendment rights of protesters and reporters — damning findings that arose from an investigation multi-year and could lead to a court-enforced review.
The federal review was triggered by the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a Minneapolis officer in 2020, a crime that led to protests and riots across the country. But the scathing 89-page Justice Department report went far beyond that murder, describing an accountability-impervious police force whose officers beat, shot and detained people unjustly and patrolled without the trust of residents.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, speaking at a press conference in Minneapolis, said that « Floyd’s death has had an irrevocable impact on the community of Minneapolis, our country and around the world » and that « the patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible.
The murder of Mr. Floyd, who was captured on video saying « I can’t breathe » while pinned to the ground by Officer Derek Chauvin, has drawn international attention to the Minneapolis Police Department. But for many people in the city, where protesters had complained about police excesses for years, Floyd’s death, horrific as it was, wasn’t entirely surprising. Justice Department investigators described “several incidents in which officers responded to a statement by a person who could not breathe with a version of ‘Can you breathe; you’re talking right now.’”
The Justice Department report was almost uniformly critical, painting an unnerving portrait of a dysfunctional police agency where unlawful conduct was common, racism was pervasive, and misconduct was tolerated.
In many cases, investigators found, officers fired without assessing the threat they faced; used neck restraints even in interactions that did not lead to an arrest; and they used their tasers, sometimes without warning, on pedestrians and drivers who had committed misdemeanors or no crimes.
« This is no secret, » said Bridgette Stewart, a lifelong Minnesotan who is black and who regularly spent time at the site of Mr. Floyd’s murder. « This is something that’s been going on in Minnesota for many, many, many, many years, longer than I’ve been alive. »
Minneapolis officials appeared at the press conference along with the attorney general on Friday and promised to negotiate with the Justice Department to reach an overhaul agreement, known as a consent decree, that would be monitored by federal court and would mandate specific changes to the police department. . Similar consent decrees followed federal investigations into police misconduct in other American cities, including Baltimore, Cleveland and New Orleans.
« This work is critical to the very health of our city, » said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. « We have the power here to effect lasting change, to effect generational change, and we embrace it. »
Officials said negotiating a consent decree could take months, and Mr Frey suggested some potential sticking points were already emerging. Earlier this year, Minneapolis entered into a separate consent decree in state court with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which reached some of the same damning conclusions about the city’s police after its own investigation.
Mr. Frey said the city would like there to be a single monitor overseeing both the state settlement and any federal settlement, and it would need assurances that the two settlements don’t contradict each other. Justice Department officials emphasized that their report included separate violations of federal law that should have been monitored by a federal judge, not a state official.
The sergeant. Sherral Schmidt, president of the union representing Minneapolis officers, said his organization had not been provided with a copy of the federal report before it was released. He said union leaders were reviewing him and intended to comment on his results later.
The report includes several instances that are painfully familiar to many people in Minneapolis: the fatal police shooting of Justine Ruszczyk, an unarmed white woman; A Christmas tree in a police station with racist decorations; racist comments from an officer to young Somalis on « Black Hawk Down » – as well as others who weren’t very well known. It described an incident in which an officer had thrown a handcuffed man facedown to the ground; another when an officer pulled a gun on a teenager over the suspected theft of a $5 burrito; and another when an officer repeatedly punched a protester who was already being held.
Investigators found that the Minneapolis police routinely discriminated against Black and Native Americans, patrolling « differently based on the racial makeup of the neighborhood, without a legitimate, related safety rationale. » And the city violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by discriminating against people with behavioral disabilities, the report said, including by sending police officers on mental health calls where they weren’t needed and where their « response is often harmful and ineffective. »
During the protests, the report said, officers violated the First Amendment rights of protesters and reporters. « MPD officers often use indiscriminate force, failing to distinguish between peaceful protesters and those committing crimes, » the report said.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department found, complaints about officer misconduct were mishandled or ignored, while some officers accused of gross misconduct were assigned to train new Police Academy graduates. The report said that Mr Chauvin, in the years before killing Mr Floyd, had used excessive force in other incidents where « several other MPD officers stood by » and failed to stop him.
« Officers who do a heinous thing almost always have a story and a pattern, » said L. Chris Stewart, who represented Mr. Floyd’s family in the civil suits following his murder. “Supervision has failed. The officers are not corrected and end up killing someone.
Mr. Chauvin was convicted of murder and federal civil rights violations in Mr. Floyd’s death, a relative rarity for an on-duty death involving police. Three other officers present at the scene that night – Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane – were also convicted on federal and state charges.
Minneapolis, a Democratic-led city that has long been a center of progressive activism, has been radically reshaped by Floyd’s assassination and the riots that followed. For a time, the city was a center of the national defund-the-police movement, with activists and several city council members calling for the abolition of the police force and a new approach to public safety.
But in the years following Mr. Floyd’s death, politics around crime and policing changed again. Minneapolis voters rejected a ballot measure in 2021 that would have replaced the police department with a new public safety agency. Mr Frey, who was mocked by protesters in the days following Mr Floyd’s murder when he spoke out against defunding the police, was elected for a second term.
Troubles for the Minneapolis police force, which had faced protests over other killings in the years before Floyd’s death, have worsened. Hundreds of officers quit their jobs, some of whom received disability checks for PTSD they linked to the riots. Amid growing crime concerns and uncertainty about the department’s future, the city has struggled to retain officers and meet recruiting goals.
When Minneapolis picked a new police chief last year, Brian O’Hara topped the list in large part because he helped oversee the implementation of a federal consent decree in Newark, the head of the New Jersey O’Hara said the road ahead would be challenging for her new city.
“This is a necessary step,” the boss said in an interview. « This is going to be how the community starts to heal, the department starts to heal, and we all try to move forward together. »
Beyond Minneapolis, the Justice Department is investigating reports of possible systemic problems with law enforcement agencies Mount Vernon, New York; CNY; Oklahoma City; Phoenix; AND Worchester, Mass.as well as with the State Police in Louisiana.
“The vast majority of Americans want the same thing: trust, security, accountability,” President Biden said in a statement that noted other Justice Department investigations launched during his tenure. « Any police officer will tell you that public trust is the foundation of public safety. »
Both critics and supporters acknowledge that consent decrees can be onerous. Embraced by the Justice Department during the Obama and Biden administrations, but not during the presidency of Donald J. Trump, consent decrees can include hundreds of requirements, cost millions of dollars and last so long that residents forget what the success.
However, the consent decree can be a powerful tool for law enforcement review. The Justice Department says consent decrees work, especially when judicial oversight is in place.
Vanita Gupta, the associate attorney general, said a consent decree would include input from residents and police officers and that a settlement « will provide a path for lasting change in Minneapolis. »
But it also had a caveat for residents: « Police reform doesn’t happen overnight. »
Shaila Dewan contributed report.