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DOJ investigation of Phoenix PD hits 1-year mark

Posted at 6:42 PM, Aug 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 23:00:40-04

After a year of the Department of Justice's pattern or practice investigation, the Phoenix Police Department is getting new leadership, but the probe shows no signs of wrapping up.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the civil rights investigation on August 5, 2021. Initially, federal officials wanted to look into Phoenix officers' use of force, possible discriminatory policing, alleged retaliation against protesters, interactions with people with disabilities, especially those in a behavioral health crisis, and the seizure of belongings from people experiencing homelessness.

ABC15 has reported on how the scope of their probe has expanded since it began.

In response to federal inquiries, Phoenix has shared more than one million pages of documents. The police department has coordinated more than 40 interviews and allowed investigators to go to academy classes and patrol ride-alongs.

Phoenix's city manager retired, and Jeri Williams, Phoenix's police chief, announced her upcoming retirement, bringing in new leadership.

DOJ investigators have also interviewed people who alleged excessive force or lost loved ones in police shootings.

Anna Hernandez said her family met with DOJ staff to discuss the 2019 fatal police shooting of her brother, Alejandro.

"My purpose is now in finding answers and speaking up for the families that this happens to, to get those answers right, and to understand why this happens, and why it happens with no accountability," Hernandez said. Hernandez is also running for a seat in the state Senate in the hopes she can change the laws relating to policing.

"What I don't want to see happen is that more money is put into Phoenix PD or expands their presence in their communities because we know it hasn't stopped it," Hernandez said.

Stacey Champion, an advocate for people experiencing homelessness, met with the DOJ investigators to tour the Zone, a concentrated area of roadside encampments near Phoenix's Human Services Campus.

"I have tried to highlight to the DOJ the fact that this has been going on for a very, very long time," Champion said.

Champion said, since federal investigators started visiting, she saw improvements in how police treat people in the Zone such as not requiring them to move for weekly cleanings and throwing away fewer items.

"It's the Department of Justice," Champion said. "You'd think that is going to, by nature, cause some pause in how [Phoenix officers] are behaving."

ABC15 reached out to the Department of Justice, Phoenix's mayor, the city manager's office, and police department. All declined interviews.

The Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association told ABC15, "PPSLA actively encourages its members to participate in interviews and meetings with the DOJ. Our primary role is ensuring that any investigation is fair and complete and that ultimately any findings are accurate."

The Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, an officers union, said, "Although we've had minimal interaction with the Department of Justice in the past year during this investigation, we are confident in the work of the Phoenix Police Department and our officers on the street."

It's unclear how much longer it will take the DOJ to reach a conclusion in its investigation, which was initially expected to last 12 to 18 months.

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