Skip to main content

Attorney General Holder Delivers Remarks at Press Conference on Investigation into Cleveland Division of Police


Cleveland, OH
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon – and thank you all for being here.  I am joined today by Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; Steven Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio; and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

In recent days, millions of people throughout the nation have come together – bound by grief and anguish – in response to the tragic deaths of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner, in New York City.  As I announced last night, the Department of Justice is currently conducting an independent, thorough, fair, and expeditious federal civil rights investigation into each of these incidents.  And, as President Obama and I have indicated, the time has come to do even more.

The tragic losses of these and far too many other Americans – including, just last month, the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice here in Cleveland – have raised urgent, national questions.  And they have sparked an important conversation about the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect.

Earlier this week, I traveled to Atlanta to begin a series of interactions – with law enforcement, civic, community, and faith leaders – aimed at restoring trust, rebuilding understanding, and fostering renewed cooperation between law enforcement and community members.  Today, we convene the second in this series of vital discussions with leaders here in Cleveland – with the intent of building a constructive and inclusive national conversation.  And we kick off this conversation with an important announcement regarding a significant step forward in our effort to ensure the highest standards of policing, and to foster broad outreach and engagement, between police officials and Cleveland residents.

After a thorough and independent review, the Department of Justice has completed its civil pattern or practice investigation into the Cleveland Division of Police.  This investigation spanned more than a year and a half.  And it was launched in response to a series of troubling, high-profile use-of-force incidents, as well as by numerous public calls for a federal investigation by civic leaders, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, and Mayor Jackson.

Since March 2013, the Justice Department has closely examined nearly 600 use-of-force incidents that occurred between 2010 and 2013, including incidents involving the use of lethal and less-than-lethal force.  We have determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Cleveland Division of Police engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force – in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and as a result of systemic deficiencies, including insufficient accountability, inadequate training and equipment, ineffective policies, and inadequate engagement with the community.

Fortunately, today, I can announce that the Department of Justice and the city of Cleveland have come together to set in motion a process that will remedy these issues in a comprehensive – and court-enforceable – manner.

Under Mayor Jackson’s leadership, the city has acknowledged that the department’s findings raise issues of importance to people throughout this community.  And together, we have agreed to a Statement of Principles that will lead to a court-enforceable consent decree – including an independent monitor who will oversee the implementation of sustainable reforms, assess compliance based on objective measures, and ensure that robust new policies and practices will result in more effective and constitutional policing.

We recognize, of course, that this process will be both difficult and complex.  It will demand engagement and input from the brave law enforcement officers on the front lines, Cleveland residents, civic leaders, and other community stakeholders.  It will require sustained and collaborative effort toward clear, concrete objectives – to build trust, to close gaps, and to forge strong relationships.  We understand that the progress we seek will not come about overnight.  But I am confident that the city of Cleveland and the Department of Justice will move forward together as committed partners.  And this joint Statement of Principles, and eventual consent decree, will provide a solid foundation for meaningful steps forward – so we can enable all the residents of Cleveland to have full confidence in the courageous public servants who work every day to keep them safe, and so we can empower those dedicated women and men in blue to address persistent challenges; to obtain the training and other resources they need to do their jobs safely and effectively; and – ultimately – to become the outstanding, world-class police force that this great city deserves.

This process continues today – with this important announcement, and with the roundtable discussion I will convene this afternoon.  All of the leaders here understand that accountability and legitimacy are essential for communities to trust their police departments, and for there to be genuine collaboration between police and the citizens they serve.  As the brother of a retired police officer, I know in a personal way how brave these public servants are.  It is for their sake as well that we must seek to heal the breakdowns we have seen.  And although these issues are complex, and the problems longstanding, we have seen in city after city where we have been engaged that meaningful change is possible.  There are real, practical and concrete measures that can be taken to ensure not only that police services are delivered in a constitutional manner, but that we can promote public safety, officer safety, confidence and collaboration, transparency, and legitimacy.

As you know, earlier this week, President Obama announced a series of constructive steps to help bolster the trust in, and effectiveness of, the policing of our communities.  These include convening a new task force to develop ways to reduce crime while building public trust; reforming how the federal government equips local law enforcement, particularly with military-style equipment; and advancing the use of body-worn cameras and promoting community policing initiatives.

These are exactly the kinds of pragmatic and inclusive actions that will bring the right people together to engage in a constructive, national conversation.  And they will complement the reinvigorated police reform work that the Justice Department’s COPS Office, Civil Rights Division, and United States Attorney’s Offices throughout the nation have been leading.

Over the last five fiscal years, our Civil Rights Division has opened more than 20 investigations into police departments across the country – more than twice as many as were opened in the previous five fiscal years.  We are currently enforcing no fewer than 15 agreements with law enforcement agencies – including eight consent decrees – to correct unconstitutional policing practices.  And we have seen, many times over, that this model can work.  Reform is underway in New Orleans; Seattle; Albuquerque; Portland, Oregon; East Haven Connecticut; Puerto Rico; and Warren, Ohio.

We are committed to moving forward together, here in Cleveland and throughout the nation, to spur renewed engagement, renewed trust, and renewed momentum to translate coordinated action into meaningful results.  We have a great deal of work to do, but this announcement marks an important first step.

I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this announcement possible – including the dedicated men and women of the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio, and the city of Cleveland – particularly Mayor Jackson.

Now it’s my privilege to turn things over to Acting Assistant Attorney General Gupta, who will provide additional details.

Updated August 27, 2015