Thursday, July 11, 2013

DOJ Report Paints A Sadistic Picture Of MPD

DOJ Report Paints A Sadistic Picture Of MPD 
Story by José Pérez

After a sweeping investigation looking into the law enforcement patterns and practices of the City of Miami Police Department that lasted a year and a half, the United States Department of Justice released its letter of findings to the public earlier this week.    The results are damning.

In the report, US Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez wrote, “We find that MPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force with respect to firearms discharges in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Section 14141.”  The DOJ found that MPD officers shot at individuals intentionally as many as 33 different times between 2008 and 2011.

That figure came from documentation in MPD records but the DOJ report also indicated that records were often inadequate, largely because they were not often completed and filed in timely fashions.   Subsequently, the DOJ observed, neither close supervision nor ensuring accountability of specific police officers involved in police-involved shootings was done by MPD.

Roy L. Austin Jr, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ said plainly, “Miami has to reform deadly force.”

Investigators reviewed approximately 17,000 documents which included forensic reports, transcripts, training manuals, investigative reports, policies and procedures. The Department of Justice (DOJ) also conducted lengthy interviews with Miami Police Department (MPD) personnel at various levels of administration and in different departments as well as members of the community. 

The investigation was launched in November 2011 in response to outcry over an outburst of police violence that resulted in the deaths of 7 Black men in Miami between Summer of 2010 and Winter of 2011. 

Overall, the DOJ report published four fundamental findings.   The first indicated that, out of the 33 documented officer-involved shootings found between 2008 and 2011, “MPD found 3 cases of unjustified force.”   It was also revealed that “MPD officers routinely employ poor tactics.”  The third finding looked at “improper actions by specialized units” including the chilling revelation that of 17 police shootings in 2010 and 2011, nine “involved an officer from a specialized unit.”

Bradford Brown of the Miami-Dade NAACP said that the specialized units, who typically use unmarked police cars and do not wear the highly visible dark navy blue uniform of MPD, were “overemphasized and under-supervised.”

Finally, the DOJ report said that MPD investigations of police-involved shootings are “inadequate.”   This was attributed “unreasonable delays” in delivering the outcome(s) of police shootings.  Additionally, the failure to properly analyze relevant information “to determine whether a shooting is justified” also adversely impacted investigations.

This is not first time that the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ has investigated MPD.  The most recent time prior to this investigation was about a decade ago when the federal authorities investigated MPD from 2002 to 2006.   Austin said, at the time of the previous investigation, many changes were made and progress appeared to be unfolding. 

Those positive steps appear to have been either short-lived or not rooted in reality.  “It is disturbing to me,” said Austin, that the issues his office saw back then still remain.

Still, Austin and Wilfredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, whose office worked with the DOJ during the course of the investigation, both commended both current MPD Chief Manuel Orosa and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado for working productively with investigators by providing “full access.”     Ferrer also acknowledged community leaders and other elected officials such as United States Representative Federica Wilson (D-FL) who contacted Attorney General Eric Holder about the matter two years ago.

The report also found that just seven police officers were involved in over a third of the shootings during the period of time investigated.   Neither Austin nor Ferrer would state the names of any of the officers they alluded to, citing that such information was out of the scope of their investigation and mandate.    Their civil investigation, said Austin, was “distinct from criminal investigations.  We intentionally do not make a determination” about individual officers.  For that, he said, the cases must be handled under a separate determination, by a separate unit at the DOJ.

Ferrer explained the difference between this investigation and a criminal investigation.  “Criminal prosecution needs to find beyond a reasonable doubt [that there was] intent to violate the victim’s Constitutional rights.  A civil investigation has a different threshold,” said Ferrer, which is established via pattern and practice.

In short, Austin described their findings as “a narrow investigation [that] focused on the greatest problem.”

Next for MPD is a court-enforceable agreement which is expected to encompass procedures, trainings, and other aspects for reform.   The entire matter will be presented to a federal judge after all parties involved have met and agreed to a sustainable performance plan.  

Austin said that, as such, a judge has not yet been assigned and added that the court agreement would not be permanent.   He did, however, offer as examples similar investigations and court-enforced agreements in New Orleans and Seattle where both departments were required to first meet conditions outlined in their respective agreements then sustain those reforms for two years.
In the case of MPD, “the agreement will be focused on what we found,” said Austin.

Austin and Wilson both pointed out that not having a binding court-enforceable agreement was a primary factor that contributed to the ineffectiveness of the reforms pledged after the previous DOJ investigation of MPD.

Orosa, who took over MPD in December 2011 just weeks after the DOJ began its investigation, released a statement in which he pointed out “a significant decrease in police-involved shootings in 2012.”   He added that the “success in this area comes as a result of reforms established under my direction.”  Orosa said that the MPD submitted “a comprehensive report to DOJ” a year ago.  Regarding the agreement necessary before the matter can be referred to a federal judge, Orosa wrote that the MPD “looks forward to the opportunity to clarify several components of the letter, as well as to labor intensely to negotiate an agreement with the Department of Justice.” 

The DOJ report acknowledged that decrease and speculated that the department “may be capable of addressing the problem.”

“The police department could do better,” said Austin. “We are optimistic that it will continue.”

Representative Wilson and others were more interested in accountability than optimism. “It appears that the DOJ is happy with current chief,” she said.   Wilson is pushing for a legitimate emphasis on reforming MPD’s institutional culture.  “It shouldn’t matter who the police chief is.  What should matter are the permanent policies and practices.”

Jeanne Baker, Chair of the Police Practices Committee of the Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, took aim at the Miami’s civilian oversight body.  “The Justice Department was able to arrive at conclusions that the city’s internal mechanisms – including the Civilian Investigative Panel – have proven inadequate to find: that the City of Miami Police Department has been violating the Constitutional rights of its citizens.”

Baker’s boss at the ACLU, Howard Simon, addressed the issue of individual accountability for the shootings and deaths. “Ultimately, someone needs to be held responsible for the deaths and the violation of constitutional rights. People’s rights have been violated and lives have been unjustly taken. Now that the groundwork has been laid by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, we expect a follow-up investigation into the conduct of Miami Police Department officers who were responsible.”

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