Justice News

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Announces a Pattern or Practice Investigation of the City of Mount Vernon, New York, and the Mount Vernon Police Department
New York, NY
United States
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Friday, December 3, 2021

Remarks as Delivered

Thank you, United States Attorney Williams, for that kind introduction.

As noted, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice places a high priority on ensuring that law enforcement officers act in a lawful and constitutional manner. An effective and accountable police department is a hallmark of a healthy and well-functioning democracy. As the United States Attorney just announced, following an extensive review of publicly available information, today we are opening a civil pattern or practice investigation into the City of Mount Vernon and the Mount Vernon Police Department. The is an investigation that will be conducted jointly by career lawyers in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division.

This marks is the fourth pattern or practice investigation opened this year. The Civil Rights Division is already working on similar investigations in Phoenix, Louisville and Minneapolis. In those cities, we are fortunate to have the support of city officials and police chiefs, and we’re pleased that Mount Vernon’s mayor and police chief have pledged their support, as well. 

In our investigations in Phoenix, Louisville and Minneapolis, Justice Department lawyers have had in-person and virtual meetings with close to more than 1,000 community stakeholders. Hundreds more have submitted messages to the department.

Department lawyers have participated in over seventy-five ride-alongs with officers. We’ve had more than twenty meetings with command staff, and we’ve also spoken to hundreds of officers in individual interviews, focus groups and roll-call briefings.

We will take the same approach here. Although Mount Vernon is a smaller department than Minneapolis, Louisville or Phoenix, the work remains the same.

The Mount Vernon investigation that we are announcing today continues our work to protect constitutional and federal rights while fostering public safety across our country. Under the Fourth Amendment, we have the right to be free from the use of excessive force. We have the right to free from unlawful strip and body cavity searches. We also have the right to be free from fabricated or falsified evidence. And under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Safe Streets Act and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, we have the right to be free from racially discriminatory policing practices.

Our investigation will examine whether the Mount Vernon Police Department upholds these federal rights. Based on our review of publicly available information and information provided to us, we find significant justification to open this investigation now. For example:

  • We received information about the repeated use of excessive force, often against individuals who are handcuffed, are already in police custody, or are suspected of non-violent offenses, including excessive force against minors. In some cases, the injuries these individuals suffered were severe.
  • Similarly, reports indicate that officers routinely conducted searches without sufficient legal basis, including strip searches, visual body cavity searches, and manual body cavity searches, at times in public or in the presence of another person.
  • We have received a number of allegations about how the department handles evidence.
  • We’ve also received reports that officers target Black residents for abuse and excessive force, including information suggesting that supervisors teach this targeting to their subordinates.

As we investigate all of these allegations, we will meet with officers and command staff as well as members of the broader Mount Vernon community. We will review incident reports, body worn camera footage, and other data and documentation collected by the department. We’ll also review Mount Vernon Police Department’s policies, training materials and supervision records, as well as documents related to systems of accountability, including how complaints are investigated and how discipline is imposed. We will hear from community members about their experiences with the police department.

As U.S. Attorney Williams already noted, members of our team are on the ground now. They have met with leaders in the City of Mount Vernon and in the police department. And I will repeat the message our team conveyed today: we are committed to following the facts where they lead, and we will do so in a timely manner.

If we conclude that there are no systemic violations of constitutional or federal statutory rights by the city or police department, U.S. Attorney Williams and I will make that known. But if, on the other hand, we conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that such violations are occurring, we will issue a report providing a comprehensive assessment of our findings and will aim to work cooperatively with the city to reach agreement on a remedy for any violations. If an appropriate remedy cannot be achieved through agreement, the Attorney General is authorized to bring litigation to secure an appropriate injunctive remedy.

We look forward to working together with the city and the Mount Vernon Police Department towards the shared goals of ensuring constitutional policing and fostering greater cooperation between law enforcement officers and the community members that they serve.

Thank you.

Updated December 3, 2021