The Department of Justice (DOJ) is launching a probe of the city of Phoenix and its police department, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke announced Thursday afternoon.

This is the third pattern-of-practice investigation that DOJ has launched during Garland’s tenure and the first probe since Clarke became head of the agency’s powerful civil rights division at the end of May.

“I have noted that these investigations aim to promote transparency and accountability,” Garland said. “This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals.”

DOJ, Garland said, will examine a handful of issues, including whether the Phoenix Police Department uses excessive force, engages in discriminatory policing practices or “violates the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness by seizing and disposing of their belongings in a manner that violates the Constitution.”

The country’s top prosecutor added that the agency will also investigate “whether the department violates the First Amendment by retaliating against individuals who are engaged in protected expressive activities, or whether the city and its police department respond to people with disabilities in a manner that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Like Minneapolis and Louisville, the two cities that are at the center of Garland’s other pattern or practice investigations, Phoenix also saw heavy protesting last year after Phoenix police shot and killed 28-year-old Dion Johnson, who was Black.

Johnson was killed on May 25,2020, the same day that George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police.

Moreover, Phoenix and its police force, along with Maricopa County officials, are being sued for allegedly conspiring to falsely arrest and prosecute Black Lives Matter protesters who took to the streets after the deaths of Johnson, Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Clarke noted that she had been in communication with Phoenix’s mayor and police chief earlier in the day and that both “pledged their full support.”

Pattern or practice reviews, long a tool for the DOJ, have once again become utilized under the Biden administration, after being relegated to gathering dust during the Trump White House.

During the Obama administration, they were used regularly, with high-profile probes of policing practices in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and Seattle.

Depending on what the Justice Department concludes, Minneapolis, Louisville and now Phoenix could all be subject to a consent decree — another DOJ tool that has been effective in curbing civil rights violations around the county.

Garland also pointed out the intersection between looking into how the Phoenix Police Department interacts with people experiencing homelessness and the current COVID-19 delta variant surge.

“This past week, there has been much attention to the impending risk of mass evictions, which would put millions of tenants at risk of losing shelter,” Garland said.

“Mass evictions would also have serious implications for law enforcement, adding to a crisis of homelessness that strains, but cannot be solved by, the criminal justice system.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday extended its eviction moratorium that ended over the weekend to Oct. 3, preventing millions of families from losing their homes. 

Because of a June Supreme Court decision, it is unclear if the agency has the power to keep unilaterally extending the moratorium, but the attorney general voiced DOJ’s support for the decision.

“The CDC has made clear the impact on public health would likewise be devastating, fueling the spread of COVID-19 infections in the affected communities,” Garland said.

“The department has vigorously defended the statutory authority of the CDC to issue eviction moratorium and we will continue to do so.”


Tags Kristen Clarke Merrick Garland Phoenix

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