A New York police department has become the subject of a federal civil rights investigation over concerns its officers participate in discriminatory policing.
The Department of Justice has opened a federal probe, it's fourth this year, into the Mount Vernon Police Department over concerns of unconstitutional conduct. The pattern or practice investigation will look at allegations of wrongdoing that if substantiated will be released in a public report.
"The investigation we are announcing today will asses whether the Mount Vernon Police Department engages in discriminatory conduct, singling out Black residents for mistreatment," U.S. Attorney Damiam Williams said in Friday's announcement.
A full review by investigators is expected to cover allegations the department's offices engage in excessive force, unlawful searches and falsifying evidence. Those allegations will also be examined through the lens of police training, department police, training and internal investigation in Mount Vernon.
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"Police officers have a tough job. Most of them do their work honorably, lawfully and with distinction, respecting the rights of the people they have sworn to protect. But when officers break the law, they violate their oath and undermine the community's trust," Williams said.
Friday's announcement, made jointly by the Southern District of New York and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, followed numerous reports of unlawful activity within the department. The investigators leading the case hope to interview community groups and members of Mount Vernon.
Williams and Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke said Mount Vernon's mayor and police commissioner have guaranteed their cooperation.
The announcement came seven months after Mimi Rocah, the Westchester County district attorney, called on the Justice Department to investigate whether the small police department north of the Bronx is “systematically violating peoples’ civil rights.” She cited a pattern of unjustified strip searches and body cavity searches and “potentially unlawful conduct by several former and current” Mount Vernon police officers.
One former officer, James Ready, pleaded guilty this summer to assaulting a handcuffed and shackled man in a hospital — a body-slamming caught on surveillance video. The officer also admitted falsifying records and lying about the 2019 attack in an effort to cover it up.
Ready's plea agreement calls for him to be placed on probation. Rocah's office recently denied a public records for the surveillance footage from The Associated Press, saying the case remains open.
There is no timeline for the investigation's completion.