AG Merrick Garland announces an investigation into Phoenix police over allegations of abuse

The Justice Department launched an investigation on Thursday into Phoenix police amid allegations officers abused homeless people, retaliated against peaceful protesters and used unlawful deadly force.

Police were accused last year of rounding up Black Lives Matter protesters and arresting them on trumped up charges that were quickly dismissed. 

And the investigation will also look into whether police violated the constitutional rights of homeless people by disposing of their property.  

The investigation into the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department is latest wide ranging review of a police force following similar investigations announced in Minneapolis, after the death of George Floyd, and in Louisville, Kentucky, after the death of Breonna Taylor

Attorney General Merrick Garland said such ‘pattern or practice investigations’ aim to determine whether officers breached the Constitution or federal law. 

‘This increases public trust, which in turn increases public safety. We know that law enforcement shares these goals,’ he said. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a 'pattern or practice' investigation into the Phoenix Police Department and City of Phoenix to examine whether officers have been using excessive force and abusing homeless people

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a ‘pattern or practice’ investigation into the Phoenix Police Department and City of Phoenix to examine whether officers have been using excessive force and abusing homeless people

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said investigators will review body camera video, along with training materials and other records.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said investigators will review body camera video, along with training materials and other records.

Garland reeled off areas of investigation, including, ‘whether the department violates the First Amendment by retaliating against individuals who are engaged in protected expressive activities.

The investigation will also look into how police respond to people with disabilities.

‘This includes whether decisions to criminally detain individuals with behavioural health disabilities are proper,’ he said.

‘And fifth, whether the Phoenix Police Department violates the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness by seizing and disposing of their belongings in a manner that violates the Constitution.’

Some of the claims relate to last year’s hot summer of protests, as cities erupted in anger at a string of police killings. 

The Phoenix Police Department is being sued by 124 people who claim officers retaliated against their protest by arresting them on charges that were immediately dismissed in court. 

Their lawsuit said officers denied them their free-speech rights, and said the police were motivated in part ‘by the desire to silence and disrupt plaintiffs’ actual or perceived protected anti-police-violence views.’ 

Other people have complained that they have not had confiscated property – such as cellphones – returned to them. 

A local television station reported that police officers celebrated shooting a protester in the groin by issuing commemorative coins. 

The police force has also come under fire for its treatment of homeless people. 

In January, a passerby filmed officers

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said investigators will review body camera video, along with training materials and other records.

‘Protecting the rule of law demands that those who enforce our laws also abide by them, she said. 

Garland said part of the problem was that police were being asked to address social problems. 

‘Too often we asked law enforcement officers to be the first and last option for addressing issues that should not be handled by our criminal justice system,’ he said.

‘This makes police officers jobs more difficult increases unnecessary concentrations confrontations with law enforcement and hinders public safety.’

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego welcomed the probe. 

‘The recommendations that will result from this review will assist us in our ongoing efforts to become an even safer, stronger, more equitable city,’ she said in a statement.

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