In a press release issued last week, the United States Department of Justice announced that it has opened an investigation of both the City of Phoenix and the Phoenix Police Department. The announcement was made by Attorney General Merrick Garland and Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

The press release describes the action as a “pattern or practice” investigation, which is designed to shed light on any persistent patterns of arrests, stops and/or searches (in violation of the Fourth Amendment); discriminatory policing; use of excessive force; violations of the rights of suspects in criminal cases; and violations of the First Amendment.

The investigation has apparently been prompted by allegations that the Phoenix PD has engaged in a pattern of using excessive force and of homeless abuse, among other reasons. This includes the circulation by some members of the police department what are described as “challenge coins,” which show a protester shot in the groin. The coin contains two statements: “good night left nut” and “make America great again one nut at a time.” The coin bears the date in 2017 when former President Donald Trump was speaking in Phoenix. Another issue is a video showing a Phoenix cop beating up a homeless man who was sleeping in an alley. There are a host of other incidents that have contributed to the investigation. They include:

  • Police firing rubber bullets and tear-gas last summer at demonstrators protesting the killing of George Floyd. Police also chased people out of their cars, and arresting hundreds, using a “cut-and-paste” statement detailing the alleged probable cause for the arrests. Many cases were dismissed at the initial hearing. The cops are also accused of refusing to return the belongings of those arrested, whose cases have already been dismissed.
  • During the anti-police brutality protests, also last summer, protesters claim they were targeted and arrested by the Phoenix PD. This includes peaceful protesters. Police are also involved, it is alleged, in surveillance of civil rights activists.
  • An indictment was obtained by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office alleging that protesters were gang members. It turns out that the gang did not exist. All those cases were eventually dismissed by the Maricopa County Attorney.
  • The Phoenix PD logged more police shootings than any other law enforcement agency in the nation in 2018. That number declined in 2019 but was up again last year.
  • Excessive force complaints, including a Black teenage girl held down by police on hot pavement during an arrest in 2019; causing a man $20,000 in medical bills after being attacked by a K9 unit; the killing of Muhammad Muhaymin Jr., who died during an arrest for failure to appear in court on a minor marijuana charge; and the list goes on.

We’ll follow the DOJ investigation, which is expected to take, according to some, at least a year.

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