Case: DOJ Investigation of Minneapolis Police Department

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Case Summary

On April 21, 2021, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was opening a pattern and practice investigation into the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). According to Garland, the investigation, initiated under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was to examine whether the City and MPD violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, …

On April 21, 2021, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was opening a pattern and practice investigation into the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). According to Garland, the investigation, initiated under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, was to examine whether the City and MPD violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act. The announcement came a day after MPD officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd. In his announcement, Garland noted that this investigation was separate from a criminal investigation that DOJ had already launched into Chauvin.

The DOJ issued its findings on June 16, 2023, following the conclusion of its investigation. The Department found reasonable cause to believe that the City and MPD engaged in a pattern of conduct that deprived people of their rights under the Constitution and the law. Among the violations, the DOJ found that MPD used excessive force, unlawfully discriminated against black and Native American individuals in its enforcement activities, violated the rights of people engaged in protected speech, and discriminated against individuals with behavioral health disabilities when responding to calls for assistance. Alongside the violations, the DOJ found persistent deficiencies in MPD’s accountability systems, training, supervision, and officer wellness programs, which the department felt contributed to violations of the law. 

The DOJ’s findings letter explained that it had reasonable cause to believe that the MPD engaged in a pattern or practice of using excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In its findings, the DOJ discussed MPD’s use of unreasonable deadly force, including discharging firearms and using neck restraints when there was no immediate threat. Other practices at issue were: unreasonable and unsafe use of tasers, unreasonable takedowns, use of other bodily force and chemical irritants like pepper spray against compliant or restrained individuals, unreasonable and harmful uses of force against youth, failure to render medical aid to people in custody in disregard of their safety, and an inadequate force review system which the Department concluded contributed to the overall pattern and practice of an excessive use of force.

The DOJ also found reasonable cause to believe that MPD exhibited  a pattern of unlawful discrimination against black and Native American individuals. The DOJ found that MPD had a practice of employing different enforcement strategies based on the racial composition of the neighborhood. Particularly during stops, MPD stopped and searched black and Native American individuals at higher rates, and used force at higher rates as well. After George Floyd’s murder, officers stopped reporting race and gender in a large number of stops, despite MPD’s policy requiring officers to collect the data. Finally, the DOJ found that MPD’s pattern of unlawful discrimination included a failure to sufficiently address known racial disparities, missing race data and allegations of bias, allowing unlawful policing practices to continue.

Next, the DOJ found reasonable cause to believe that MPD engaged in a pattern or practice of First Amendment violations. MPD officers were found to have a pattern of regularly retaliating against people for their speech or presence at protests. This retaliation frequently manifested as force, and MPD officers often failed to distinguish between peaceful protesters and individuals committing crimes, which was a required practice. MPD also retaliated against journalists and unlawfully restricted their access during protests, despite the fact that reporting is a constitutionally protected activity, and retaliation against individuals for gathering the news is prohibited by the First Amendment. And MPD’s retaliatory conduct was not limited to protests. During stops and calls for service, officers retaliated against people who observed, questioned or criticized them, even though observation and criticism of officers – including profane comments – constitutes protected speech. 

The DOJ also identified evidence of violations of the ADA by the MPD and the City. Many behavioral health-related calls for service do not require a police response, but MPD responded to the majority of those calls, and that response was often harmful and ineffective. When MPD officers responded to behavioral health calls, they often failed to use appropriate de-escalation techniques, such as giving the individual extra space and time, speaking slowly and calmly, and actively listening. The DOJ found numerous examples of MPD officers unnecessarily escalating situations, and in many cases using avoidable force against people with behavioral health disabilities. The DOJ also found that the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center contributed to unnecessary police responses to calls involving behavioral health disabilities, as they lacked the ability to adequately assess and appropriately dispatch behavioral health-related calls for service. New training regarding these calls was limited, particularly around behavioral health diagnoses, and response protocols were unclear. The DOJ also assessed that MPD lacked the ability to adequately assess and appropriately dispatch behavioral health-related calls for service, and inadequately trained officers to respond to those calls.

Finally, the DOJ found persistent deficiencies in MPD’s accountability systems, training, supervision, and officer wellness programs. The DOJ cited the complexity of MPD’s accountability system, and found that it discouraged complaints, wrongfully dismissed complaints at intake, misclassified complaints and ignored explicit misconduct allegations. MPD was also found to inappropriately divert serious misconduct for coaching (which was a non-disciplinary corrective action tool meant to address low-level misconduct), which sometimes never even took place. MPD also failed to: 1) conduct thorough, timely and fair misconduct investigations, 2) adequately discipline police misconduct, 3) adequately train officers to ensure effective, constitutional policing, and 4) adequately supervise officers, as MPD didn’t provide supervisors with the tools and data to prevent, detect and correct problematic officer behavior. MPD’s wellness programs were also found to be insufficient to adequately support officers.

The parties reached an agreement in principle, in which they committed to negotiating a comprehensive settlement in the form of a consent decree to be entered in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota. As part of the agreement, the parties agreed that a third-party monitor would be selected to monitor the implementation of and compliance with the consent decree. As of November 26, 2023, the parties remained in negotiation.

Summary Authors

Jonah Hudson-Erdman (9/12/2021)

Simran Takhar (7/6/2023)

People


Attorney for Plaintiff

Bildtsen, Ann M (District of Columbia)

Clarke, Kristen M. (District of Columbia)

Coe, Cynthia (District of Columbia)

Garland, Merrick B. (District of Columbia)

Attorney for Defendant

Anderson, Kristyn (Minnesota)

Expert/Monitor/Master/Other

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Documents in the Clearinghouse

Resources

Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:31 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Minnesota

Case Type(s):

Policing

Disability Rights

Special Collection(s):

Traffic Stop Litigation

Key Dates

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division

Plaintiff Type(s):

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

City of Minneapolis (Minneapolis, Hennepin), City

Minneapolis Police Department (Minneapolis, Hennepin), City

Defendant Type(s):

Law-enforcement

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.

Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, 34 U.S.C. § 12601 (previously 42 U.S.C. § 14141)

Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.

Constitutional Clause(s):

Unreasonable search and seizure

Freedom of speech/association

Equal Protection

Special Case Type(s):

Out-of-court

Available Documents:

Findings Letter/Report

Outcome

Prevailing Party: None Yet / None

Nature of Relief:

None yet

Source of Relief:

None yet

Issues

General/Misc.:

Aggressive behavior

Failure to discipline

Failure to supervise

Failure to train

Incident/accident reporting & investigations

Juveniles

Pattern or Practice

Racial profiling

Record-keeping

Retaliation

Search policies

Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)

Disability and Disability Rights:

Mental Illness, Unspecified

Mental impairment

Discrimination Basis:

Race discrimination

Affected Race(s):

American Indian/Alaskan Native

Black

Policing:

Excessive force

Improper treatment of mentally ill suspects

Inadequate citizen complaint investigations and procedures

Restraints : chemical (policing)

Restraints : physical (policing)

Traffic Stops