State police and Gov. Edwards react to DOJ civil rights probe
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The U.S. Justice Department has opened a sweeping investigation of the Louisiana State Police following allegations of unconstitutional policing and claims people of color have been targeted by troopers.
It is officially called a “pattern or practice” investigation and comes after the death of African American motorist Ronald Greene.
Kristen Clarke, DOJ Assistant Attorney General led the press conference during which the probe was announced at the federal courthouse in Baton Rouge.
“Today, the Justice Department is opening a civil investigation into the Louisiana State Police and the state of Louisiana to determine whether the Louisiana State Police engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law,” said Clarke.
Clarke said the investigation will be comprehensive.
“We will review incident reports, body-worn camera footage, and other data and documentation collected by the department. We will also review Louisiana State policies, training materials as well as supervision records as well as documents related to systems of accountability,” she said.
Clarke said they have done an extensive review of publicly available information.
“There are reports that officers target black residents in their traffic enforcement practices and in use of force,” said Clarke. “Some of the reports include disturbing information about the use of racial slurs and racially derogatory terms by LSP troopers. There are other reports of unwarranted force after pursuits involving the use of tasers and blows to the head.”
The probe comes after the Associated Press’ lengthy investigation led to among other things the release of a video of state troopers’ encounter with Greene in Monroe, Louisiana. Videos captured white troopers beating, stunning, and dragging Greene.
“Why haven’t we stopped it, why does this keep happening?” asked Ashraf Esmail, Ph.D., a Dillard University criminologist.
The feds say the probe is justified.
“We received information about the repeated use of excessive force often against people who are suspected of minor traffic offenses, are already handcuffed, or, are not resisting. In some cases, the injuries these individuals suffered were severe, including the death of at least one individual,” said Clarke. The investigation involves all three U.S. Attorney’s Offices in Louisiana.
“There is no question that there is a percentage of the population that has lost faith in law enforcement and the justice system due to the actions of a few,” said Ronald Gathe, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana.
No arrests or charges have been brought in Greene’s death. “There hasn’t been any criminal charges and that’s what’s most disturbing with all of this,” said Esmail.
The investigation will involve the communities around the state.
Governor John Bel Edwards and the current head of LSP Col. Lamar Davis issued the following joint statement:
“I welcome the U.S Department of Justice’s civil investigation into the patterns and practices of Louisiana State Police. It is deeply troubling that allegations of systemic misconduct exist that would warrant this type of investigation, but it is absolutely critical that all Louisianans, especially African Americans and other people of color, have their faith, confidence, and trust in public safety officers restored.
This investigation is one part of that process. I share the Department of Justice’s goal of ensuring that Louisiana State Police are policing in a constitutional way.
It is my expectation that all employees of the Louisiana State Police will cooperate fully and completely with this investigation. It is my commitment and that of Col. Lamar Davis to the U.S. Department of Justice that they will have complete cooperation from the agency.
I am confident in the leadership of Col. Davis, who has already made great strides in reforming the agency.
While I firmly believe that the vast majority of Louisiana State Police troopers meet the professional standards of law enforcement officers and protect and serve honorably, when some do not, our people, communities, and state suffer.
Working together, I am confident that Louisiana State Police will continue to make positive changes so that all of our people can feel protected and safe.”
Col. Lamar Davis said:
“Since accepting the position of Louisiana State Police Superintendent, I have vowed to regain the trust of our citizens, our law enforcement partners, our political leaders, and the men and women of our agency. The Department of Public Safety is comprised of over a 1,000 dedicated men and women within our commissioned ranks. Each of them display selfless service, courage, and integrity on a daily basis. Our personnel truly make a difference in our communities and I am grateful for the sacrifices they make on behalf of public safety. That does not change the fact that we have had some employees violate the trust of our citizens and of their colleagues. When that occurs, it is incumbent upon our agency to uphold our public safety oath and make the changes necessary to ensure that this does not ever happen again.
With today’s announcement of a Federal Civil Rights investigation, our agency will continue to offer our full cooperation as we have done with all investigations over the last several years. No one is more committed to implementing positive change within our agency than our own personnel who work tirelessly each day to provide professional public safety services to the state of Louisiana.
As our agency moves forward, we have taken great strides in amending policies such as banning chokeholds, banning the use of impact weapons to the head and neck, instituting a duty to intervene policy, and defining accountability for supervisors to review, track, and report excessive force incidents. Implicit bias training is already in effect and de-escalation/duty to intervene training will begin this year. These improvements and reforms affect every aspect of our department and are only possible through the dedicated efforts of our Troopers, DPS Police Officers, and support staff. These steps are vital to ensuring that we provide the best services and constitutional policing possible to the communities we serve.
We remain committed to the reform process through continued coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice and community stakeholders. Through this coordination, we will continue to implement critical changes within Louisiana State Police and build trust within our communities.”
The investigation will involve the communities around the state.
“We will meet with community members throughout the state of Louisiana, and we are opening a voicemail and email box line so that people can submit information,” said Clarke.
And the DOJ says the investigation is separate from any federal criminal investigation of the Louisiana State Police.
“Nothing at this point has been charged with the officers. It’s been almost three years. That’s a long time given the video evidence that we have,” said Esmail.
FOX 8 asked Esmail if he foresees a possible consent agreement between the state and DOJ regarding La. State Police.
“I would hope so,” said Esmail. “We need to come up with a decree something in writing.”
Clarke said the DOJ is serious about after-investigation action. A lawsuit against the state that could force a federal consent decree is a possibility.
“If violations are found then we will aim to work cooperatively with the state to reach an agreement on the best remedies. If an agreement cannot be reached the Justice Department is authorized to bring a civil lawsuit seeking injunctive relief to address violations,” said Clarke.
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