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Justice Dept. opens investigation into Louisiana State Police

June 9 (UPI) -- The Justice Department on Thursday launched a sweeping civil rights investigation into the Louisiana State Police as evidence points to officers targeting and using excess force against Black residents.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke announced the department's civil pattern-or-practice probe in a press conference with federal prosecutors stating they will determine whether Louisiana State Police uses excessive force and engages in racially discriminatory police practices against Black and other people of color.

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"Based on an extensive review of publicly available information and information provided to us, we find significant justification to open this investigation now," she said.

Accusations against the police department have been mounting since at least May 2019 when Ronald Greene, a 49-year-old Black motorist, died in police custody. Video footage of the arrest shows that Green died after White troopers beat and stun-gunned him after he failed to stop for a traffic violation. In late January, federal prosecutors opened an investigation into his death.

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Clarke said support for its probe, which is separate from any ongoing department criminal investigations, includes information about the repeated use of excessive force, often against people accused of minor traffic infractions, against handcuffed suspects who were not resisting arrest.

"In some cases, the injuries these individuals suffered were severe, including the death of at least one individual," she said.

If violations are found, they will work with the state to reach an agreement on changes and if an agreement cannot be reached the Justice Department is authorized to file a civil lawsuit seeking injunctive relief against the law enforcement agency, she said.

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"Our investigation will be thorough and comprehensive."

It is the first pattern-or-practice investigation of a state law enforcement agency by the Justice Department in more than two decades but the fifth it has opened against a police department under the Biden administration.

Probes launched in Louisville, Minneapolis, Phoenix and New York's Mt. Vernon are ongoing.

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"Every American, regardless of race, has the right to constitutional policing," she said. "And we know constitutional policing is necessary to ensure public trust and to enhance public safety."

U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana Ronald Gathe said state police is the model of all law enforcement within the state and whether lawful procedures are being performed must be answered to restore the bond between the community and police.

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"Our goal is to regain the trust of those who have lost confidence in the system and provide justice for all," he said.

U.S. Attorney Duane Evans called Thursday "a very important day" for the state and while there are good, hardworking officers in Louisiana, they cannot ignore any allegation of any constitutional violation, much less a pattern of unconstitutional policing.

"No one should be deprived of the protections of our federal and state constitutions," he said. "Under the law we are all equal, and entitled to just, efficient, consistent and constitutional law enforcement."

Gov. John Bel Edwards and Col. Lamar Davis, superintendent of Louisiana State Police, were informed of the investigation prior to its announcement and issued a joint statement pledging their cooperation and support.

"It is deeply troubling that allegations of systemic misconduct exist that would warrant this type of investigation, but it is absolutely critical that all Louisianans, especially African Americans and other people of color, have their faith, confidence and trust in public safety officers restored," Edwards said.

Davis said his officers make a difference in the communities they police but that does not mean some do not violate the trust of the citizens they are to protect and that of their colleagues.

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"It is incumbent upon our agency to uphold our public safety oath and make the changes necessary to ensure that this does not ever happen again," he said.

Clarke said the state's participation will expedite the Justice Department's investigation.

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