Minneapolis police face federal oversight for excessive force, discrimination

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Minneapolis police face federal oversight for excessive force, discrimination © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man holds an image of George Floyd at a vigil on the second anniversary of the death of Floyd, a black man who was killed in 2020 by white police officer Derek Chauvin by kneeling on his neck, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. May 25, 2022. RE

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – Police in Minneapolis routinely use excessive force and discriminate against Black and Native American people, the U.S. Justice Department said on Friday after a two-year investigation prompted by the police killing of George Floyd.

The city has agreed to what will likely be years of federal oversight as it works to reform the Minneapolis Police Department, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in announcing the findings.

The scathing 89-page report vindicated long-standing community complaints of rampant abuse by the police force that predated Floyd’s murder by white former police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes.

“We found that the Minneapolis Police Department routinely uses excessive force, often when no force is necessary, including unjust deadly force and unreasonable use of Tasers,” Garland said at a press conference at the city’s federal courthouse.

The report found that officers frequently violated residents’ constitutional rights. They used potentially deadly neck restraints, since banned by the city, and shot at people in situations where there was no immediate threat.

Other findings included officers frequently failing to intervene when they saw colleagues using excessive force, discriminating against people with behavioral health disabilities and unconstitutionally retaliating against protesters and journalists.

“We observed many MPD officers who did their difficult work with professionalism, courage and respect, but the patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible,” Garland said at the press conference with Mayor Jacob Frey and other city officials.

Frey and other Minneapolis officials will negotiate an agreement with the Justice Department known as a consent decree in which a federal judge will oversee the city’s progress in reforming the police department.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division launched its investigation in April 2021 after Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd, a Black man, by kneeling on the handcuffed man’s neck as he begged for his life before going limp.

Floyd’s murder in May 2020, captured in a bystander’s cellphone video, sparked nationwide protests decrying police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system. In Minneapolis, protesters damaged property, including a police precinct house that was set ablaze.

Many in Minneapolis complained Chauvin’s excessive use of force against Floyd was not an exceptional case, but rather a commonplace practice of the city’s police officers abusing the rights of Black residents.

Garland said the investigation found that there were several incidents in which city police officers “were not held accountable for racist conduct” until there was a public outcry.

Marcia Howard, a Minneapolis teacher and prominent civil rights activist, said the report was being cautiously welcomed by community members who have occupied the intersection where Floyd was killed, in what is now a years-long protest seeking an overhaul of the police.

“It emphasizes what Black and Indigenous people have been saying for years, that we have lived under the yoke of a racist regime in the Minneapolis Police and they have gone unchecked with their egregious uses of force,” Howard said.

Mayor Frey said he welcomed the Justice Department’s help in reforming the police department.

“Our success will be defined by the people of Minneapolis feeling safe when interacting with police in our city,” he said.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, released a statement calling the report’s findings disturbing. He repeated his call for Congress to pass reforms “that increase public trust, combat racial discrimination and thereby strengthen public safety.”

Negotiating the consent decree with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is expected to take several months, officials said. The department has negotiated similar federal oversight agreements in other cities, including Ferguson in Missouri, Baltimore and Cleveland.

Chauvin, the former officer convicted on state charges for Floyd’s murder, later pleaded guilty to federal charges that he violated Floyd’s civil rights, and is serving a 21-year sentence in federal prison. Three other police officers involved in the arrest were also convicted on state and federal charges.

(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of Marcia Howard in paragraph 13)

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