Remarks as Delivered
Good morning. My name is Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
I am joined today by United States Attorney Ronald Gathe for the Middle District of Louisiana, United States Attorney Duane Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana and United States Attorney Brandon Brown for the Western District of Louisiana.
Today, the Justice Department is opening a civil investigation into the Louisiana State Police and the State of Louisiana, to determine whether the Louisiana State Police engages in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law.
The civil investigation we are announcing today will focus on two main issues. First, whether the Louisiana State Police has a pattern or practice of using excessive force. And second, whether the Louisiana State Police engages in racially discriminatory policing practices against Black people and other people of color.
Based on an extensive 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 suspected only of minor traffic offenses, are already handcuffed or are not resisting. In some cases, the injuries these individuals suffered were severe, including the death of at least one individual.
- There are reports that officers target Black residents in their traffic enforcement practices and in use of force. I will note that Louisiana has the second highest percentage of Black residents in the country at nearly 33%.
- Some of the reports include disturbing information about the use of racial slurs and racially derogatory terms by LSP troopers.
- There are other reports of unwarranted force after pursuits involving the use of tasers and blows to the head.
Our investigation will be thorough and comprehensive. This marks the first state-wide pattern or pattern investigation of a law enforcement agency that the Justice Department has opened in more than two decades. The investigation will also involve unprecedented cooperation among the Civil Rights Division and all three United States Attorneys’ Offices.
We will review incident reports, body worn camera footage and other data and documentation collected by the department. We will also review Louisiana State Police’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 meet with community members throughout the State of Louisiana, and we are opening voicemail and email boxes so that people can submit information directly to the department. We will meet with command and line staff, and we'll participate in ride-alongs to ensure that we understand officers' interactions with the community.
One thing we have learned over the decades is that we must work collaboratively with the community, across the state, as well as with the state officials. The Justice Department takes these steps in every pattern or practice investigation with the goal of ensuring that policing policies and practices are constitutional and lawful.
As in every Justice Department investigation, we will follow the facts and the law wherever they lead. We have no pre-formed conclusions. If there is reasonable cause to believe that there is a pattern or practice of constitutional or statutory violations, we will issue a public report of our conclusions.
If violations are found, then we aim to work cooperatively with the state to reach agreement on the best remedies. If an agreement cannot be reached, the Justice Department is authorized to bring a civil lawsuit seeking injunctive relief to address the violations.
Today’s announcement marks the fifth pattern or practice investigation opened since the start of this Administration. The department’s investigations into the police departments in Louisville, Minneapolis, Phoenix and Mt. Vernon, New York, are ongoing, and we have secured cooperation from all those jurisdictions. In each of these investigations, including the one we are opening today of the Louisiana State Police, our goal is to promote transparency and accountability, which will increase public trust. We know that promoting public trust between communities and law enforcement is essential to making both communities and policing safer.
This investigation marks the 75th investigation of a law enforcement agency conducted since Congress entrusted the Department of Justice, and only the Department of Justice, with the authority to conduct pattern or practice investigations of law enforcement agencies. We take this responsibility seriously. Every American, regardless of race, has the right to constitutional policing. And we know constitutional policing is necessary to ensure public trust and to enhance public safety.
We know because we have seen our settlements across the country and over the years work to improve real-life interactions between law enforcement and the communities they serve. Recently, for example, the independent monitor for the Seattle Police Department consent decree reported a significant decrease in the use of force since 2014, including a 60% decrease in the use of serious force. Where Seattle officers once quickly resorted to use of batons, they now use them rarely to strike individuals. More generally, our settlements also produce improved training for officers, enhanced systems of accountability and greater transparency with the public.
Finally, this civil pattern or practice investigation of the Louisiana State Police is separate from the Justice Department’s criminal investigations. We recognize that there is intense public interest in the events surrounding the tragic death of Ronald Greene. As U.S. Attorney Brown stated earlier this year, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Louisiana are conducting a thorough criminal investigation into this matter. That investigation remains ongoing and we are limited in what we can say at this time. However, we do want to make clear that the civil pattern or practice investigation that we are announcing today is separate, and apart of any other criminal investigation.
This investigation will be conducted jointly by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across Louisiana.
We have just briefed Governor John Bel Edwards and Superintendent Lamar Davis about the investigation and we are pleased that both offices have pledged their support and cooperation. They recognize that we share common goals: ensuring that law enforcement officers act in a lawful and constitutional manner, which furthers public trust and public safety.
We look forward to working with the State of Louisiana and the State Police towards the shared goals of ensuring constitutional policing and fostering greater cooperation between law enforcement officers and the community members that they serve.
I want to invite now U.S. Attorney Ronald Gathe to the podium.