Minneapolis Police investigation: DOJ found it violated peoples' constitutional rights

U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland released the findings of a federal investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, prompted by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, during a press conference Friday morning, saying the police department and City of Minneapolis engaged in a pattern of discrimination and excessive force. 

The DOJ has been investigating the MPD after former police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted for killing George Floyd in 2020 which sparked mass protests and civil unrest in the Twin Cities. Garland said the investigation showed there is reasonable cause that MPD officers violated people's constitutional rights, engaged in a pattern of using excessive force, and discriminated against Black people and Native Americans. Furthermore, the city along with officers discriminated against people with "behavioral health disabilities" when responding to calls for assistance. 

"George Floyd’s death had an irrevocable impact on his family, on the Minneapolis community, on our country, and on the world," Garland said. "The patterns and practices of conduct the Justice Department observed during our investigation are deeply disturbing. They erode the community’s trust in law enforcement. And they made what happened to George Floyd possible. Today, we have completed our investigation, but this is only the first step. We will continue to work with the city and the MPD toward ensuring that MPD officers have the support and resources they need to do their jobs effectively and lawfully as we work together toward meaningful and durable reform."

The DOJ’s report comes after the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) found the MPD and the City of Minneapolis engaged in a pattern of racist discrimination and violated civil rights law. The city approved a settlement agreement with MDHR in March 2023 which outlines policy, budget and training requirements the city and MPD will implement. 

However, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the federal investigation found issues violating constitutional rights which will be addressed through a consent decree- a legal agreement requiring the MPD to make changes that will be overseen by an independent monitor. Garland explained they are in the process of reaching a consent decree, which will include 28 remedial measures for policing.

"The United States findings include real and unique concerns under the First Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act," Clarke said. "These issues sweep beyond the scope of the MDHR report and are issues of federal and constitutional concerns that will endeavor to resolve through our consent decree."

The Justice Department laid out the findings of their investigation during a press conference Friday morning. 

Excessive and unconstitutional use of force

The investigation found officers with the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a pattern of using excessive use of force, including unjustified deadly force and unreasonable use of Tasers.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General Clarke said during the investigation, they reviewed 19 police shootings and one in-custody death from Jan. 1, 2016, to Aug. 16, 2022, and found many of these incidents were unconstitutional uses of deadly force and officers would use deadly force without probable cause. 

In one case, officers shot and killed an unarmed woman, Justine Damond, in 2017 who had "spooked him" when she approached his squad car. Damond had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in a nearby alley. In another case, an officer fired his gun at a car filled with six people, seconds after he got out of his squad car. 

The investigation found officers often used neck restraints without warning and used them against people with minor offenses who posed no threat. The review indicated numerous incidents in which MPD officers responded to a person saying that they couldn’t breathe with a version of "You can breathe. You’re talking right now." 

Chauvin also used neck restraints while responding to a call in 2017 where he was captured on body camera footage with his knee on the back of a teenager’s neck for an extended period of time. The City of Minneapolis approved two settlements in April 2023 over Chauvin’s use of force against a woman and the teenager in 2017 which allowed the victims to release body camera footage of the incidents.  

The Justice Department said the City of Minneapolis and the police department started reforms prior to the federal investigation results being released, including police being prohibited from using neck restraints like the one Chauvin used to kill Floyd. 

In the review of less lethal force, the inquiry found Minneapolis officers' use of Tasers is often inconsistent with MPD’s policy and occurs without warning. Officers used Tasers for minor offenses, on children, and on people known to have behavioral health issues. In some cases, officers fired the Taser several times without reassessing, which can be dangerous, Clarke explained. 

History of discrimination 

The inquiry found MPD officers unlawfully discriminate against Black and Native American people in their policing duties, including the use of force following a stop. The data showed officers stop, search and use force against Native American and Black people at disproportionate rates and stopped them nearly six times more often than white people in situations that did not result in arrest or citation. 

Furthermore, the review found the city and police discriminated against people with "behavioral health disabilities" when responding to calls for assistance. Clarke said many calls related to behavioral health do not require police response because they often do not involve violence, weapons or pose an immediate threat. Out of the 100,000 behavioral health calls reviewed in the investigation, only 0.45% resulted in an arrest at the scene, Clarke said. 

When police are unnecessarily sent to a behavioral health call, people are harmed as a result, Clarke added. Instead, behavioral health responders should be dispatched when appropriate, and can be accompanied by an officer if needed. 

Minneapolis already implemented the Behavioral Crisis Response Program which moved into the Office of Community Safety to work alongside all other safety programs. BCR provides unarmed, mental health professionals as responders in behavioral health crisis situations, according to the City of Minneapolis.

Violating First Amendment rights

The inquiry found Minneapolis police officers violated people’s First Amendment rights who were engaging in protected speech by retaliating against protesters and members of the press. 

The Justice Department explained that on May 30, 2020, Minneapolis police officers encountered journalists sheltering at a gas station during the civil unrest following Floyd’s death. One journalist showed his credentials shouting he was a member of the press, but the officer pushed his head forcefully into the pavement. The journalist shouted again showing his credentials, but the officer proceeded to pepper spray him in the face and walked away.

Officers would also push and pepper spray protesters who posed no threat. Clarke explained when protesters resisted police commands they used force to "punish them" after the threat had ended. During a protest in March 2021, officers beat, kicked, and shoved protesters after they were restrained.

Reactions to DOJ’s Findings 

Mayor Jacob Frey’s statement: "Today marks an essential step forward for community trust and community safety. Over time, our success will be defined by Minneapolis residents and the experience of our neighbors. And we’re not going to stop until every single person in Minneapolis feels that success. That means when every resident – regardless of their background, or the neighborhood they call home – feels safer when they see and interact with a Minneapolis police officer, knowing that officer is guided by a commitment to justice. I want to thank the Department of Justice for its objective approach, thorough review, and expert analysis. We are united today in a shared commitment to community trust and community safety for the people of Minneapolis."

Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander’s statement: "These findings we are embracing today are a clear and public demonstration of the recommendations we created when I served on President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. This process is one of the vehicles that will help our City build relationships as we create and implement policy and systems change. We are committed to transforming Minneapolis into one of the safest cities in America for everyone who lives in or visits our city. Our job is to make sure our community safety teams fully embrace the best practices that can reduce crime and build public trust."

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara’s statement: "These findings are a major step in reforming this department into one that provides a level of service that will be a model for law enforcement agencies across the country. Moving forward, we will continue the process of changing the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department to ensure the safety and wellness of our police officers and the residents of this city. And paramount to this is the rebuilding of trust between this department and the people it serves." 

The press conference was attended by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Bildtsen for the District of Minnesota, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, and Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara. 

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): "The findings of the DOJ’s investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department are troubling, and sadly not surprising. Minneapolis residents – especially Black and Indigenous people, and people with behavioral health disabilities — have long been victim to excessive force and discriminatory treatment at the hands of MPD. Police have treated the people and the First Amendment with blatant disrespect by assaulting protesters and journalists. We hope the coming consent decree finally helps create a community where all people are safe, and police follow the law," Deepinder Mayell, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota said in a statement Friday. 

To read the full report of the DOJ's investigation into the City of Minneapolis and MPD, click here