A day after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday that his department is opening a sweeping investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department’s policing practices.
“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Garland said during a news conference at the US Justice Department in Washington, DC.
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“Today, I am announcing that the Justice Department is opening a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing.”
Wednesday’s announcement comes after Chauvin was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last May, setting off a wave of relief but also sadness across the country. The death of Floyd, who was Black, sparked months of protests against policing and calling for racial justice across the US.
The Justice Department is already investigating whether Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights.
The investigation is known as a “pattern or practice”. It will be a more sweeping probe of the entire department and may result in major changes to policing there, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.
The investigation will examine practices used by police, including excessive use of force, notably during protests, whether the department engages in discriminatory conduct and whether its treatment of people with behavioral health disabilities is unlawful, Garland said.
Floyd, 46, was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.
The initial Minneapolis police report said Floyd had died after a “medical incident during police interaction”. It said the man “physically resisted officers”, that they “were able to get the suspect into handcuffs, and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress”.
It did not mention bystander calls to release the man.
The centerpiece of the case was a bystander video of Floyd, handcuffed behind his back, gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe,” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was about 9.5 minutes, including several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he had no pulse.
The Justice Department had previously considered opening a pattern or practice investigation into the police department soon after Floyd’s death, but then-Attorney General Bill Barr was hesitant to do so at the time, fearing that it could cause further divisions in law enforcement amid widespread protests and civil unrest, three people familiar with the matter told the Associated Press.