US Department of Justice opens civil rights investigation into Mississippi police department News
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US Department of Justice opens civil rights investigation into Mississippi police department

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Wednesday that they have opened a civil pattern or practice investigation into the City of Lexington’s police department (LPD) that will focus on the LPD’s “use of force and its stops, searches and arrests” to see if there are systemic violations of the Constitution and federal law.

The investigation is set to review the department’s policies, training, and supervision. The LPD has agreed to cooperate with the investigation. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department found “significant justification” for opening the investigation including allegations of Lexington officers arresting people without justification, using force against those who did not pose a threat to officers, using roadblocks targeting black drivers and retaliating against those who question or record police action.

The Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Right Division and the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi will conduct this investigation according to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The DOJ will be investigating any potential violations by law enforcement under the “First, Fourth and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the non-discrimination provisions of the Safe Streets Act.”

The City of Lexington has approximately 1600 residents and the LPD consists of fewer than 10 officers. Roughly 86 percent of Lexington’s population is Black and has a poverty rate close to thirty percent. The DOJ highlighted that allegations of police misconduct rise in communities that face “racial discrimination and economic disadvantage.” The Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department stated that “Police misconduct in smaller communities may not always garner national attention, but rest assured, the Justice Department is watching.”

The DOJ stressed that this is only the beginning of the investigation and that they have not reached any conclusions at this time.  This investigation will be the 11th investigation into law enforcement misconduct. There are currently ongoing investigations of the “the Phoenix Police Department; the Mount Vernon (NY) Police Department; the Louisiana State Police; the New York City Police Department’s Special Victims Division; the Worcester (MA) Police Department; the Oklahoma City Police Department; the Memphis (TN) Police Department; and the Trenton (NJ) Police Department.”

If the DOJ finds enough evidence of misconduct then the Justice Department is able to bring a civil lawsuit “seeking injunctive relief to address the violations” in the event the Justice Department is unable to reach an agreement on remedies with the LPD. Although if there are no findings of violations then the DOJ will announce such results.