The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the Louisiana State Police to assess whether the law enforcement agency uses excessive force and whether it engages in racially discriminatory policing.
The investigation will include a comprehensive review of the police department’s policies, training, supervision and use-of-force investigations, as well as its systems of accountability, including misconduct complaint intake, investigation, review, disposition and discipline, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
“Protecting the civil rights of all Americans and building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve are among the Justice Department’s most important responsibilities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “This investigation, like all of our pattern or practice investigations, will seek to promote the transparency, accountability, and public trust that is essential to public safety.”
The DOJ said it’s conducting the investigation pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibits state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of rights protected by the Constitution or federal law.
The statute allows the DOJ to remedy such misconduct through civil litigation, and law enforcement practices under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as under the Safe Streets Act of 1968 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Officials said the investigation was separate from any other federal criminal investigation of the state troopers.
Before the announcement, DOJ officials informed Gov. John Bel Edwards, Colonel Lamar Davis, and Deputy General Counsel Gail Holland, all of whom pledged to cooperate with the investigation.
As part of the investigation, DOJ officials will reach out to community groups and members of the public to learn about their experiences with the police department.
The Special Litigation Section of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern, Middle and Western Districts of Louisiana are conducting the investigation jointly.
“Every American, regardless of race, has the right to constitutional policing,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Based on an extensive review of publicly available information and information provided to us, we find significant justification to investigate whether Louisiana State Police engages in excessive force and engages in racially discriminatory policing against Black residents and other people of color.
“The Justice Department stands ready to use every tool in our arsenal to confront allegations of misconduct and to ensure legitimacy during encounters with law enforcement,” Clarke said.
The DOJ asks that anyone with relevant information to contact them via email at Community.Louisiana@usdoj.gov or by phone at 202-353-0684.
Individuals can also report civil rights violations regarding this or other matters using the Civil Rights Division’s reporting portal, available at civilrights.justice.gov.