On April 21 (the day after the Chauvin guilty verdict), U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced that “the Justice Department has opened a pattern or practice investigation into the City of Minneapolis (the City) and the Minneapolis Police Department [MPD].”
The Investigation Announcement
“The investigation will assess all types of force used by MPD officers, including uses of force involving individuals with behavioral health disabilities and uses of force against individuals engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment. The investigation will also assess whether MPD engages in discriminatory policing. As part of the investigation the Justice Department will conduct a comprehensive review of MPD policies, training and supervision. The department will also examine MPD’s systems of accountability, including complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition and discipline. The Department of Justice will also reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with MPD.”
According to the Attorney General, this investigation “will assess whether the [MPD] engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, including during protests. Building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”
“Like so many of you, I have closely watched the events in Minnesota. Although the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death. My heart goes out to them and to all those who have experienced similar loss.”
“I know such wounds have deep roots, and that too many communities have experienced those wounds firsthand. Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis.”
“The Justice Department also has the authority to bring a civil lawsuit, asking a federal court to provide injunctive relief that orders the MPD to change its policies and practices to avoid further violations.”
“Most of our nation’s law enforcement officers do their difficult jobs honorably and lawfully.”
“I strongly believe that good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices. Good officers welcome accountability because accountability is an essential part of building trust with the community, and public safety requires public trust.”
“I have been involved in the legal system, in one way or another, for most of my adult life. I know that justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive, and sometimes never comes. The Department of Justice will be unwavering in its pursuit of equal justice under law.”
“The challenges we face are deeply woven into our history – they did not arise today or last year”
“Building trust between the community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency, knowing that change cannot wait.”
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan, for the Department’s Civil Rights Division, said, “One of the Civil Rights Division’s highest priorities is to ensure that every person in this country benefits from public safety systems that are lawful, responsive, transparent and nondiscriminatory,” said “It is essential that police departments across the country use their law enforcement authority, including the authority to use force, in a manner that respects civil rights and the sanctity of human life.”
According to W. Anders Folk, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, “People throughout the city of Minneapolis want a public safety system that protects and serves all members of our community. This investigation by the Department of Justice provides a vital step to restore and build trust in the [MPD} and its officers.”
The New York Times pointed out that the Department would issue a public report at the conclusion of the investigation. It also has the option to bring a civil suit against the MPD and enter into a settlement agreement, or consent decree, to ensure that prompt and effective action is taken to bring the department’s practices into compliance with the law.
More immediately, this investigation was welcomed in a StarTribune editorial and by Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Minneapolis Police Chief Arradondo and 12 of the 13 Minneapolis City Council members.
The StarTribune editorial said this investigation “is a welcome development in a city where mayors and police chiefs alike have struggled for years to effectively reform the department.” It also noted that “MPD officers are seldom disciplined for their actions, well-protected by a powerful union. Chauvin had at least 16 prior complaints against him, only two of which drew reprimands. A recent Star Tribune analysis shows that for the department as a whole, only about 3% of misconduct complaints resulted in discipline.”
The Mayor said the City must seize on this “generational opportunity” to improve life for the Black community. Similar sentiments were voiced by Chief Arradondo, who pledged to “cooperate fully” with the investigation while saying , “The Chief has been insistent that he wants to make the MPD the best department possible.”
The 12 Council members stated they “fully support [this investigation in holding accountable] any and all abuses of power and harms to our community and stand ready to aid in this process as full partners.” They also said, “The City Council’s oversight of the Minnea[polis Police Department has been historically constrained by the City Charter and state law and we welcome new tools to pursue transformational, structural changes to how the City provides for public safety.”
Minnesota’s two U.S. Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, issued a joint statement reminding everyone that they previously had “called for the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the patterns and practices of racially discriminatory policing in Minneapolis. We commend the Department of Justice’s decision to open this investigation, and we encourage them to coordinate with the ongoing investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Through both of these efforts, we are hopeful to make meaningful progress. These investigations alone will not solve systemic issues, which is why we won’t stop fighting to pass police reform legislation to hold officers accountable for misconduct, increase transparency in policing practices, and ban dangerous police practices like chokeholds and no-knock warrants.”
Several activist groups had mixed responses:
- Black Visions said, “The police investigating themselves will never result in needed changes to truly provide public safety to the people of Minneapolis and greater Minnesota. The MPD has shown the public and community time and time again that they do not care about the safety of Black people or the larger community.”
- Reclaim the Block said, “Minneapolis’ violent and murderous police department is built on the Obama Justice Department model of 21st century policing. We don’t expect real change to come out of the DOJ.”
- Communities United Against Police Brutality said, “ We have been asking for DOJ assistance—since at least 2001. We have a toxic culture of police in this state, and not just in one department.”
Jared Fishman, a former federal civil rights prosecutor, called the announcement “hugely significant” and said it could signal that the Justice Department would once again use its considerable legal muscle to try to force police reforms. The Obama administration had opened 25 investigations into local law enforcement agencies and enforced 14 court-approved consent decrees mandating changes. Yet Fishman cautioned that the efficacy of such settlements can sometimes be stymied because local departments or prosecutors’ offices lack the resources or expertise to make the changes federal officials recommend.Fishman also noted that last week Attorney General Garland had rescinded a 2018 order by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions that aimed to drastically limit the use of such settlement agreements with local police agencies.
 Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Announcement of Pattern or Practice Investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department (April 21, 2021); U.S. Dep’t Justice, PRESS RELEASE: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Announces Investigation of the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Minneapolis Police Department (April 21, 2021); Benner, Attorney general Merrick Garland announces an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, N.Y. Times (April 21, 2021); Nakamura, Berman & Zapotonsky, Garland announces Justice Dept. probe into Minneapolis police, Walsh. Post (April 21, 2021),  See note 1 supra. See also Editorial, Justice Department probe is a critical next step, StarTribune (April 21, 2021); Press Release: Klobuchar, Smith Statement on Department of Justice Investigation into Minneapolis Police Practices (April 21, 2021); Mannix, Justice Department to probe whether Minneapolis police have ‘pattern and practice’ of misconduct, StarTribune (April 22, 2021), ; Nakamura, Merrick Garland rolls back Trump-era restriction on forcing local police reforms, Wash. Post (April 16, 2021); Condon & Woodall, Advocates fear Minnesota, federal police reform efforts could lose momentum, StarTribune (April 22, 2021).
It should also be noted that shortly after the killing of George Floyd, the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights entered into an agreement banning choke holds and neck restraints by the MPD. (See these posts to dwkcommentaries.com: Ban on Police Choke Holds and Neck Restraints in Agreement between City of Minneapolis and Minnesota Department of Human Rights (June 6, 2020); Court Approves Agreement on Police Conduct Between City of Minneapolis and Minnesota Department of Human Rights (June 9, 2020).