Seal of the U.S. Department of Justice. (Public domain image)
The U.S. Department of Justice has launched a civil rights investigation into the Louisiana State Police to determine if a “pattern or practice” of abusive unconstitutional policing exists within the agency, federal authorities announced Thursday in Baton Rouge.
The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and the ACLU of Louisiana requested the federal investigation last July after a series of high-profile beatings of Black motorists led to evidence suggesting state troopers tried to cover up their actions in the death of Ronald Greene, who died in custody in May 2019.
A federal pattern or practice investigation is a comprehensive inquiry used to reform problem law enforcement agencies nationwide. The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division investigates to determine whether police regularly use excessive force, discriminatory procedures or commit other constitutional violations.
At a noon press conference, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Civil Rights Division said the inquiry is separate from any criminal investigations into the “tragic death” of Greene at the hands of state troopers in Union Parish.
Federal authorities turned the criminal case into Greene’s death over to Union Parish District Attorney John Belton, who announced in April that he planned to ask a grand jury to consider state charges against the troopers shown on body-camera footage beating the 49-year-old to death on the side of a highway.
If the civil rights investigation reveals systemic problems within State Police, federal authorities will try to work with the agency to remedy the problems, Clarke said. This often takes the form of a negotiated agreement such as a consent decree, in which a court appoints a federal monitor to oversee the agency for what could be several years.
The Civil Rights Division has launched similar investigations in Louisville, Kentucky and Minneapolis, among other cities, since Attorney General Merrick Garland took the helm under President Joe Biden.
“Every American, regardless of race, has the right to constitutional policing,” Clarke said. “Based on an extensive review of publicly available information and information provided to us, we find significant justification to investigate whether Louisiana State Police engages in excessive force and engages in racially discriminatory policing against Black residents and other people of color. The Justice Department stands ready to use every tool in our arsenal to confront allegations of misconduct and to ensure legitimacy during encounters with law enforcement.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Lamar Davis pledged to cooperate with the investigation, Clarke said.
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