An investigation by the Justice Department found that the Minneapolis Police Department and the city engaged in a pattern of violating people’s constitutional rights before the May 2020 death of George Floyd, Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
Following a two-year investigation sparked by Floyd’s death, the attorney general said systemic problems in the police department “made what happened to George Floyd possible.”
“We found that the Minneapolis Police Department and the city of Minneapolis engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force, unlawfully discriminating against Black and Native American people in enforcement activities, violating the rights of people engaged in protected speech and discriminating against people with behavioral disabilities … when responding to them in crisis,” Garland said.
Investigators determined that the Minneapolis Police Department “routinely uses excessive force, often when no force is necessary” and that officers “routinely disregarded the safety of people in custody,” the attorney general said.
“MPD officers discharged firearms at people without assessing whether the person presents any threat, let alone a threat that would justify deadly force,” he said, highlighting the 2017 death of Justine Ruszczyk. The 40-year-old had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault before she was shot by then-Officer Mohamed Noor. The officer said she had “spooked him,” Garland said.
The Justice Department launched an investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department’s practices in April 2021, one day after a jury found former Officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murder and other charges in Floyd’s death. Video posted on social media showed Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes on May 25, 2020, as other officers helped to hold the 46-year-old down and kept bystanders away. Floyd could be heard pleading for air and calling for his mother before his death.
Three other police officers involved in Floyd’s death — Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane — have also been convicted of state and federal charges.
“Our review found numerous instances in which MPD officers responded to a person’s statement that they could not breathe with a version of ‘you can breathe, you’re talking right now,’” Garland said Friday. He added that officers often failed to intervene when their coworkers used excessive force, pointing specifically to Chauvin as an example.
“Years before he killed George Floyd, Derek Chauvin used excessive force on other occasions in which multiple MPD officers stood by and did not stop him,” Garland said.
The police department also stopped Black and Native American people nearly six times as often as they did white people, investigators found. Several times, officers were not held accountable for “racist conduct” until after public outcry built, Garland said.
“Such conduct is deeply disturbing, and it erodes the community’s trust in law enforcement,” he added.
The attorney general praised police and city leaders for making some changes in the wake of Floyd’s death, including barring officers from using neck restraints and banning no-knock search warrants.
“But, as the report outlines, there is more work to be done,” he said.
The Justice Department recommended 28 measures aimed at improving public safety, building community trust and complying with the Constitution and with federal law. Garland said that officials with the city and the police department have signed an agreement in principle to address the issues identified.