Attorney General Merrick Garland announces the findings of a Department of Justice Investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. Credit: Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

Minneapolis police regularly violate the public’s constitutional rights, use excessive force against adults and children, discriminate against Black and Indigenous people during traffic stops, and retaliate against community members and the media, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced at a Friday news conference.

Garland also noted that Department of Justice, the city of Minneapolis, and Minneapolis police reached an “agreement in principle” to enter a consent decree where they would agree to reform measures that are enforced by a federal court and monitored by an independent body.

Garland and other federal authorities revealed findings from a Department of Justice investigation at a 10 a.m. news conference in Minneapolis alongside Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara.

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In announcing the findings, Garland recounted how one Minneapolis officer mistreated four Somali teenagers during a traffic stop by recounting how the U.S. military killed Somalis during the Somali Civil War in the 1990s.

“Such conduct is deeply disturbing and it erodes the community’s trust in law enforcement,” Garland said.

The investigation resulted in four key findings:

  • Minneapolis police use excessive force, including unjustified deadly force.
  • Minneapolis police unlawfully discriminates against Black and Native American people during traffic stops.
  • Minneapolis police violate the rights of people engaged in protected speech, including protestors.
  • Minneapolis police and the city discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to calls for assistance.

The Department of Justice found that Minneapolis police systematically violated the public’s rights protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and the right to assemble; and the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unnecessary seizure. 

Additionally, Minneapolis police engaged in racial discrimination in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, discriminated against people with behavioral health disabilities in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and unlawfully discriminated against Black and Native American people during traffic stops, a violation of the 1968 Safe Streets Act. 

“Every person in the United States must be able to go about their daily lives without concern that they will be affected by unconstitutional policing, particularly unconstitutional force,” Garland said. “That’s what a democracy is about—people can participate in civic life free of interference from the state, as long as they are behaving lawfully.

“What we saw in Minneapolis and what we saw in the report is heartbreaking, and I think everybody in Minneapolis realizes that.”

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Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, said the traffic stop racial discrimination was the first-time finding in any of the Justice Department’s many pattern or practice investigations of police departments across the country. 

“MPD (Minneapolis Police Department) disproportionately stops Black and Native people and performs searches more frequently than whites, even when they behave similarly,” Clarke said. 

She added that the department also used force disproportionately more on Black and Native people during traffic stops. Garland noted that these stops often didn’t lead to arrests or citations.

The two-year pattern or practice probe was launched in April 2021 a day after jurors convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd in 2020 by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes while he begged for his life and warned officers that he could not breathe.

“As I told George Floyd’s family this morning, his death had an irrevocable impact on this Minneapolis community, this country, and the world,” Garland said Friday at the beginning of his remarks.

He added that Floyd’s murder was the product of ongoing Minneapolis police practices.

“The patterns and practices we observed made what happened to George Floyd possible,” Garland said.

Minneapolis police stopped reporting race data in their traffic stops following Floyd’s murder, said Assistant Attorney General Clarke.

U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, Ann Bildtsen, also spoke at the news conference.

Bildtsen said community input from residents and several organizations were critical in the investigation. Bildsten and others speakers thanked the community, city, and police department for their cooperation.

Frey said the report’s findings will change the city and policing.

“The data and the facts the DOJ have presented in these findings are aligned with what communities of color have told us for several years, in fact generations,” said Frey, adding that the DOJ’s report was needed in order to compel change.

U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta at a news conference on June 16, 2023. Credit: Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

Police Chief O’Hara described the potential consent decree positively, saying that he promises to be transparent with reform efforts. He said he had experience working under a consent decree at a previous job with the Newark, New Jersey, police department.

“I look at this not as a list of reforms that have to be done… this is truly about trying to change culture in policing,” O’Hara said.

Bildtsen said negotiations on the terms of a consent decree could take several months or up to a year to finalize.

“The community will be deeply engaged every step of the way,” Clarke said in response to a question about what would happen next.

Community members held their own news conference Friday after the federal findings were announced. In a prepared statement, Communities United Against Police Brutality President Michelle Gross said her group provided 2,300 written testimonies of alleged police misconduct to federal investigators throughout the investigation. Gross added that her group also made people with disabilities and homeless people available to federal investigators to share their experiences with Minneapolis police.

“We have done all we can to keep the community at the table throughout this process,” she said.

For its investigation, the Department of Justice heard from more than 2,000 community members and organizations, interviewed dozens of Minneapolis police officers, went on police ride-alongs, spoke with current and former city staffers, and reviewed thousands of documents, including police reports. Investigators also analyzed data from the city and police department between 2016 and 2022 on calls for service, police stops, uses of force, and other police activities. 

Friday’s development follows a similar investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, which found last year that Minneapolis police systematically engaged in racial discrimination against the public. As a result of the state findings, Minneapolis police and the state entered a court-enforced consent decree earlier this year that mandates reform of the department.

The federal investigation’s findings mean Minneapolis will likely enter a second consent decree, which would place the city in a unique scenario. Justice Department officials noted Friday that the state and federal investigations are different and separate because they looked at state and federal laws, respectively.

To date, no police department in the country has entered into more than one court-mandated consent decree to reform unconstitutional practices. The prospect of two consent decrees is something Frey previously opposed

“The deep changes we need to see will require one set of clear metrics and tools to get the work done,” Frey’s spokesperson Tara Niebeling told Sahan Journal last year. “Mayor Frey is open to a consent decree–one consent decree.”

Frey was asked Friday about the potential for two consent decrees.

“Is it sound policy to have two different independent monitors that may or may not agree whether compliance has been met or not? No, it is not,” he said. “Very early on in this process, the [city] council president and I made clear that one of the pieces where coordination was essential was with an independent monitor. We don’t want two distinct agreements with two distinct monitors, with two different determinations of whether compliance has been met or not. That’s not a way to get to clear and objective success.

“And so, what we as a city are committed to is working with both the DOJ as well as the state to getting an individual that can be the monitor, and making sure that none of the provisions within the respective agreements conflict. That’s essential.”

Federal pattern or practice investigations originated in the wake of the 1991 Rodney King incident, when Los Angeles police were recorded on videotape beating King after a highway chase while he was driving intoxicated. A jury acquitted the police officers, sparking several days of rioting in LA.

Proponents who believe federal pattern or practice investigations are a means to police reform cite success stories like Detroit, which saw police shootings drop by 60 percent five years after it entered a consent decree. They also point to Seattle, which saw police use of force incidents drop by 63 percent seven years after the department entered a consent decree. 

But consent decrees are lengthy, expensive, and can result in bad relations between police unions and the federal government. Albuquerque, New Mexico, is in its eighth year of a consent decree; city taxpayers have paid close to $10 million to employ its independent monitor in those years. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland enters the press room at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Minneapolis. Garland traveled to Minnesota to announce the findings of a Department of Justice investigation into discriminatory practices by the Minneapolis Police Department. Credit: Aaron Nesheim | Sahan Journal

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...

Katelyn Vue is the housing reporter for Sahan Journal. She graduated in May 2022 from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Prior to joining Sahan Journal, she was a metro reporting intern at the Star...

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal covering immigration and politics. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. She’s a graduate...