DOJ Closes Probe Into Austin Police; Finds No Evidence of Civil Rights Violations
By Andrew Ramonas | May 31, 2022 10:59 am

The Justice Department has closed its investigation of the Austin, Texas police department, after finding no evidence of civil rights violations, marking the end of another high-profile DOJ probe into a city police force this year.

Jonathan M. Smith, chief of the DOJ Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section, wrote in a letter Friday to acting City Attorney Karen Kennard that the Department closed the four-year probe “because we do not find reasonable cause to believe that APD has engaged in a pattern, or practice that violated the Constitution or laws of the United States,” the Austin American-Statesman reported. Smith said the department addressed many of the suggestions the DOJ made in 2008 about community relations, complaint policies, use of force and training.

The findings stand in stark contrast to the Department’s conclusion in its investigation into the New Orleans Police Department, which wrapped up in March. The DOJ concluded that the police force engaged in systematic “unconstitutional conduct,” saying that officers discriminated against minorities, stopped and searched people for no reason and used excessive force.

But the Austin Police Department isn’t entirely off the hook.

Smith said the police force could improve on the way it conducts internal investigations, provide public and objective reports on its internal affairs division, find ways to reduce the use of force and employ a planned system to identify officers who have a propensity for using force and breaking policies.

The DOJ started probing the police force in 2007, following a 2004 federal complaint from the NAACP that said the department infringed on peoples’ civil rights.

Nelson Linder, president of the Austin chapter of the NAACP, said he was content with the DOJ’s investigation.

“There is no doubt that [Police] Chief [Art] Acevedo and his team have made a lot of reforms,” Linder told the American-Statesman. “I think he should be congratulated.”

The DOJ has been in the headlines several times during the Obama administration for civil rights investigations into police departments.

In March, the DOJ announced it launched a probe into the Seattle Police Department to see whether if it has a history of “discriminatory policing” and using excessive force. Earlier this month, the DOJ said it opened an investigation to the police department of Newark, New Jersey, to determine whether officers retaliated against citizens, used excessive force and were involved with other wrongdoing.

“In case you haven’t heard, the Civil Rights Division is once again open for business,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Civil Rights Division told a police oversight association in September, according to Salon.


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