FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASECR
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 21, 1999(202) 353-8584
WWW.USDOJ.GOVTDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FILES POLICE MISCONDUCT LAWSUIT
AGAINST THE CITY OF COLUMBUS, OHIO
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Justice Department today sued the city of Columbus, Ohio, alleging that the city has tolerated a pattern or practice of excessive force, false arrests and illegal searches and seizures by its police department.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, stems from an investigation launched by the Department's Civil Rights Division in 1996, and follows lengthy negotiations intended to reach agreement on the actions the city would take to address the problems identified during the investigation. Today's lawsuit seeks improvements in the training and supervision of police officers, and the investigation of civilian complaints.
When the Justice Department and the city reached a tentative agreement in August 1999, they invited the police union to participate in negotiations because the terms of the agreement are inconsistent with parts of the union's collective bargaining contract. Negotiations with the union have not produced consensus.
"We would still prefer to bring about needed changes in the police department through negotiations, rather than contested litigation," said Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. "The measures outlined in our tentative agreement with city officials would give the city the tools to help the Columbus Division of Police fulfill its law enforcement duties while safeguarding the rights of all persons police officers serve and protect."
In filing suit, the Justice Department recognizes that the city has committed to use its ongoing collective bargaining negotiations to seek changes in its contract with the union which would allow the city and the Justice Department to proceed with their agreement. As a result, the Justice Department has asked the court to stay the litigation until December 20, 1999, shortly after the current contract is scheduled to end.
This is the third police misconduct lawsuit filed by the Justice Department. Under a provision of the 1994 Crime Bill, law enforcement agencies are prohibited from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of individuals. The two previous suits filed by the Justice Department were against the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the town of Steubenville, Ohio. In both cases, the suits were filed with consent decrees that were reached through negotiations with the Justice Department.
The Justice Department has several ongoing investigations into police departments and other law enforcement agencies around the nation to determine if they are engaged in a pattern or practice of misconduct.