Justice Department officials past and present celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act Friday, the same day as the Civil Rights Division announced it was considering new accessibility rules for movies, equipment and furniture, 911 services and websites.
Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas E. Perez, former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.) — the primary sponsor of the law — spoke at the ceremony.
Thornburgh recalled how when he was Attorney General in the early 1990s, the Justice Department planned to hold an event in the Great Hall to announce new ADA regulations. Shortly before the event they realized that the Great Hall itself wasn’t handicapped accessible, but engineers got to work and made it so in time for the event.
Since the passage of ADA, the Justice Department has “had some problems in the courts,” which Thornburgh said came from judges with a “woeful lack of understanding about what it meant to have a disability.” He also urged state and local governments not to cutback on compliance with ADA regulations because of the recession.
Holder touted the work of the Justice Department on access for the disabled, saying that the department has returned to a model of aggressive enforcement actions.
“At every level of our work – and in cooperation with our partners across the administration – we have placed a renewed focus on enforcing the ADA,” Holder said in prepared remarks.
But the Justice Department had not done enough within its own house to offer work opportunities to those with disabilities, he said.
“Put bluntly, we do not have sufficient numbers of people with disabilities who serve as our colleagues in this great agency,” Holder said.
As part of the Justice Department’s Diversity Management Plan, Holder said, the new position of Special Assistant for Disability Resources would be filled in the coming weeks. The Attorney General’s Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities is also making recommendations for improving the recruitment, retention and accomodation of persons with disabilities, he said.
Former Assistant Attorneys General for Civil Rights Stephen Pollack, John Dunne and Jim Turner attended the ceremony Friday, along with representatives from the disability rights movement.
The event came the same day as Justice Department officials announced new ADA regulations are in the works to address the accessibility of movies, equipment and furniture, 911 services and websites.
Being unable to access websites “puts individuals at a great disadvantage in today’s society, which is driven by a dynamic electronic marketplace and unprecedented access to information,” the department said in an advanced notices of proposed rulemaking.
Many websites “fail to incorporate or activate features that enable users with disabilities to access all the site’s information or elements. For instance, individuals who are deaf are unable to access information in Web videos and other multimedia presentations that do not have captions.”
Making websites friendly to disabled users is neither difficult nor especially costly, and often does not require changes to the format or appearance of a website, the DOJ said.
In another advanced notice of proposed rulemaking concerning video and movie captioning, the DOJ said representatives from the movie theater industry had strongly urged the government not to issue regulations regarding movie captioning at theaters, noting that new advances in digital cinema will make it much easier to provide closed captions or video described movies.
While the Justice Department is aware that costs associated with providing equipment “may indeed constitute an undue burden” on some movie theater owners and operators, the notice said the DOJ “believes that it may be unnecessary and inappropriate to wait to establish rules pertaining to closed captioning and video description for movies.”
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Recent testimony before the the U.S. Civil Rights Commission from a former Justice Department lawyer has “raised serious concerns as to whether the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement policies are being pursued in a race-neutral fashion,” the panel’s chairman wrote in a letter to the head of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division Wednesday.
In a letter to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds highlighted several statements by former DOJ lawyer J. Christian Adams, who testified before the commission last week about the Justice Department’s handling of a voter fraud case against the New Black Panther Party.
During his testimony, Adams stated that Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Julie Fernandes said the Voting Section would not bring cases under Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act — which is sometimes called the “Motor Voter” law and deals with the state’s administration of voter registration.
“We have no interest in enforcing this provision of the law. It has nothing to do with increasing turnout, and we are just not going to do it,” Adams said Fernandes told Voting Section lawyers at a brown bag lunch.
“I was shocked. It was lawlessness,” Adams told the commission.
“If Mr. Adams’ testimony is to be believed, a senior official in the one federal division responsible for enforcing the Motor Voter law announced a policy of non-enforcement with respect to a lawfully-adopted Congressional statute,” wrote Reynolds, a political conservative appointed to the commission by President George W. Bush in 2004. “I sincerely hope you will pursue and investigate these charges.”
In a footnote, Reynolds said that Section 8 “requires state election officials to periodically update their voter rolls—for example, by removing deceased persons and felons from the rolls and updating the information of those who have changed addresses or moved permanently out of the jurisdiction—to ensure their accuracy.”
The Justice Department interprets the statute differently. In a question and answer page about the law updated last month, the DOJ said that the National Voter Registration Act “does not require any particular process for removing persons who have been disqualified from voting pursuant to State law by virtue of being convicted of a crime or being adjudged mentally incompetent.”
According to the website, the law only requires states to make “reasonable efforts” to remove deceased persons from the voting rolls, but it does specify any particular process for doing so.
“States can follow whatever state law process exists for doing this, and there is no federal process to be met,” the website says.
DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler declined to comment on the letter or on the statements allegedly made by Fernandes, but said the Justice Department makes enforcement decisions based on the merits of the case and not the race, gender or ethnicity of the parties.
“We are committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of the federal laws that prohibit voter intimidation,” Schmaler said. “We continue to work with voters, communities, and local law enforcement to ensure that every American can vote free from intimidation, coercion or threats.”
Michael Yaki, a Democratic member of the commission, said the letter only represented the view of a single commissioner.
“He doesn’t bother to say that Adam’s testimony is largely uncorroborated and unsubstantiated, that Adams’ himself was not a credible witness given that he claimed to be nonpartisan yet listed himself as a ‘Republican lawyer’ at the time of his tenure in the Department,” Yaki said. “It is another futile attempt to smear the Justice Department and hide the Commission’s own inaction during the politicization of the Civil Rights Division during the time of Alberto Gonzales and Bradley Schlozman.”
The letter is embedded below.
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Six New Orleans Police Department officers were indicted Tuesday in connection with a now-infamous shooting that occurred on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina.
The indictment alleges that four officers – Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso — open fired on the Danziger Bridge, killing two individuals and wounding four others. The shootings allegedly occurred on Sept. 4, 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Faulcon also is charged with shooting a 40-year-old mentally disabled man in the back, and Bowen faces charges for allegedly kicking the man while he was dying.
The four officers face up to life in prison or the death penalty, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten said.
Two supervisors – Arthur “Archie” Kaufman and Gerard Dugue – are charged with obstructing justice during the subsequent investigations. Kaufman faces 120 years in prison, while Dugue faces 70 years, Letten said.
The indictments were unveiled during a news conference in New Orleans with Letten, Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez and Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division Kevin Perkins.
All of the officers were in custody by Tuesday, Letten said.
Five other police officers and a civilian have already pleaded guilty to federal charges they obstructed justice and engaged in a cover-up of the shootings.
At the news conference, Holder said that the announcement “marks an important step forward in administering justice, in healing community wounds, in improving public safety, and in restoring public trust in this city’s police department.”
“It will take more than this investigation to renew the New Orleans Police Department and allow it to thrive,” Holder said. The DOJ “is committed to using our civil statutes, technical expertise, and other tools to implement sustainable reforms and address the systemic problems that have challenged this department.”
Holder also recognized what he called the “outstanding leadership and partnership” of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D). In May, Landrieu wrote at letter to Holder asking for the Justice Department to conduct an assessment of the city’s police department and the criminal justice system.
“This process is far from over. And I want leaders and residents of New Orleans to know that the Justice Department is committed to providing whatever assistance this city, its police department, and its people need,” Holder said. “You have, and deserve, nothing less that my full and ongoing support.”
The indictment is embedded below.
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Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez on Monday defended a Justice Department’s lawsuit that seeks to preempt the enforcement of an Arizona law that critics say could lead to discrimination against Hispanics.
“Under our system of government, there is one quarterback and only one quarterback when it comes to issues of immigration, and that is the federal government,” Perez told an audience gathered for a American Constitution Society event in Washington D.C.
States getting involved in immigration could complicate the federal government’s operations in a number of areas, Perez said.
“You cannot have a system of 50 quarterbacks in the immigration system because immigration includes issues of law enforcement, it involves decisions with implications in foreign policy, it involves incidents with humanitarian implications, and you can’t have 50 states making immigration law and have a coherent system,” Perez said.
The law at issue allows authorities to question an individual if law enforcement officials have a “reasonable suspicion” the person is in the country illegally. It also criminalizes the “willful failure” to carry immigration documents. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit last week against Arizona and its governor, Republican Jan Brewer, seeking to invalidate the state’s immigration law on the grounds that it is preempted by federal immigration laws.
Justice Department lawyers traveled to Arizona to listen to what various group thought about the law before deciding to file the suit, Perez said.
“We didn’t simply sit here inside the beltway and figure out what was best for Arizona or what was constitutional under that circumstance, we went out and listened,” Perez said. “And it’s very noteworthy to me to see that officers who are on the front lines, police chiefs who are on the front lines, talk about how if you want to get smart on crime, you should focus on the most serious and violent criminals and you shouldn’t be focusing your first attention on the day laborers, and that’s precisely what this bill among other things does.”
In an interview with CBS that aired Sunday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department “wanted to go out with what we thought of our strongest initial argument and to focus on what we thought is the most serious problem with the law as it now exists.” He suggested that a second lawsuit which focused on racial profiling grounds could be possible if the first suit were to fail.
On Monday, Perez encouraged people to read the pleadings in the case.
“What you will find is not only are there declarations from federal officials in that case, but you’ll also find there are declarations from the police chief or Phoenix, the police chief of Tuscan, the police chief of Flagstaff, and the sheriff of… one of the counties that borders Mexico,” he said.
At an event in the Great Hall Monday honoring the contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is working to “[live] up to its responsibility to provide a work environment where every employee is respected and given an equal opportunity to thrive.”
Holder also pointed to the Obama administration’s accomplishments on LGBT issues including the new federal hate crimes law — the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act that the president signed into law in October — and the Justice Department’s recent decision that the Violence Against Women Act covers same-sex partners.
“We have much to celebrate today. In the year since we last gathered, our nation – and the Justice Department – have taken steps to address some of the unique challenges faced by members of our country’s LGBT community,” said Holder in remarks at the annual DOJ LGBT Pride Month event.
DOJ Pride was founded in 1994, and flourished when Janet Reno was Attorney General. Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales later banned the group from using Justice Department facilities. Attorney General Michael Mukasey welcomed DOJ Pride back to the Great Hall in 2008, and DOJ Pride President Chris Hook said the event has grown in size since the Obama administration took over in January 2009.
During his remarks, Holder also touted the DOJ’s new Diversity Management Plan — which calls for greater diversity in such areas as hiring, promotions and retention — and the appointment of former acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips to manage the implementation of the plan as Deputy Associate Attorney General for Diversity.
“With this initiative, and with Channing’s leadership, we’re working to ensure that the department can effectively recruit, hire, retain, and develop a workforce that reflects our nation’s rich diversity, a department that welcomes and encourages the contributions of its LGBT employees,” Holder said.
Holder did not address some of the controversies that LGBT advocates have raised with the Department of Justice, such as the DOJ’s defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez introduced the keynote speaker, U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan, the first openly gay federal prosecutor to head a U.S Attorney’s office.
“What a difference two years makes,” Durkan said. “Today I stand before you as the first openly gay U.S. Attorney. But I can promise you I’m not the last. In fact, today there are three Senate confirmed openly gay U.S. Attorneys in America.
“Two followed me. I started a trend. But I do want to point out, they’re all women. So guys, you need to step it up,” Durkan joked.
She also praised Holder’s work on the LGBT issues, saying that “there is nobody more committed to equality and justice across America than our Attorney General Eric Holder.”
Sharon Lubinski, the first openly gay U.S. Marshal, also spoke at the ceremony and was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Officials in attendance at the event included Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West; Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno of the Environment and Natural Resources Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten; U.S. Attorney for Minnesota B. Todd Jones; U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman; and Chris Dudley, Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
DOJ Pride also gave out three awards, including to two local advocates for same-sex marriage. D.C. Councilmember David A. Catania, the force behind the law that made same-sex marriage legal in the District of Columbia, received the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award along with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Gansler was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia under then-U.S. Attorney Holder.
Hook received the James R. Douglass Award for his leadership of DOJ Pride. He took over in 2006, when the group had shrank dramatically during the Bush administration, but it has since grown back to the size it was during the Clinton administration.
Hook made it clear when he took over the organization in 2006 that DOJ Pride “did not intend to go into hiding,” said Marc Salans, Assistant Director of the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management, who presented the award.
The event was sponsored by the Department of Justice, the Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity staff and DOJ Pride.
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The Justice Department’s liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community, Matt Nosanchuk, said Thursday the LGBT perspective has a “seat at the table” in the Obama administration.
Nosanchuk, who works as a senior adviser to Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez, was part of a panel that spoke at the National Press Club on Thursday about the Obama administration’s work on LGBT issues.
The Justice Department has taken some heat from some in the LGBT community for defending the Defense of Marriage Act and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy even though the Obama administration opposes them.
Nosanchuk indicated he has had input into several Justice Department briefs defending the two to make sure they didn’t use offensive language or arguments.
“I wasn’t there when the first [DOMA] brief was filed,” said Nosanchuk, who joined DOJ last August. “I was there when the second one was filed. I think we would all kind of agree that the language in the first brief was not … necessarily the best language. But it sort of speaks for itself because the language and the approach changed.”
Nosanchuk said that in the second DOMA brief, the Obama administration abandoned some of the more inflammatory arguments, such as citing studies that claimed gay parents were not as effective.
Still, Nosanchuk said the Justice Department has to defend all of the laws on the books, even if the administration disagrees with particular laws.
“The Department of Justice has a historic and traditional obligation to defend the laws that Congress passes,” Nosanchuk said. “We don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing with laws to enforce.”
Nosanchuk said that the previous administration chose not to enforce some laws, specifically within the Civil Rights Division, and that was not a practice the Obama administration wanted to continue.
The Civil Rights Division, Nosanchuk added, has worked closely with the Civil Division to defend the Matthew Shepard Hates Crimes Act in a lawsuit brought by the Thomas More Law Center.
Speaking for himself, Nosanchuk said that cultural wedge issues like battles over gay rights “tend to fill a vacuum” in times when there were fewer pocketbook or hot-button issues in a campaign.
Within the Justice Department, the president of DOJ Pride, an organization for LGBT employees, said in October there had been a “big leap forward” on such issues in recent years.
Later this month, the Justice Department will host a June Pride Month event in the Great Hall of the Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department building. The June 21st event will feature Perez; Attorney General Eric Holder; Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D- Minn.); Sharon Lubinski, the U.S. Marshal in Minnesota; and Jenny Durkan, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington.
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Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday he found it “intolerable” that Arab and Muslim Americans feel uncomfortable about their relationship with law enforcement and asserted the Justice Department is working to strengthen the ties with those communities.
“Since becoming Attorney General last February, I have heard from Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans who say they feel uneasy about their relationship with the United States government. I’ve spoken to Arab-Americans who feel that they have not been afforded the full rights – or, just as important, the full responsibilities – of their citizenship. They tell me that, too often, it feels like ‘us versus them’,” Holder said in prepared remarks.
“That is intolerable,” he continued. “And it is inconsistent with what America is all about. In this nation, our many faiths, origins and appearances must bind together, not break us apart.”
Holder addressed the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), one of the organizations that takes part in bi-monthly meetings hosted by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The meetings bring Muslim, Arab, Sikh and South Asian American leaders together with representatives of top federal agencies, a spokesman said.
Holder’s speech, at the 30th anniversary convention of the organization, came at a time when government officials have expressed heightened concern about the threat of home-grown terrorism inspired by Islamic extremism.
Those fears were underscored last week by White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan. In remarks about the Obama administration’s new National Security Strategy last week, Brennan said there had been seven alleged incidents of home-grown terrorism in the past year.
Another case was announced by the Justice Department on the eve of Holder’s speech when the Justice Department disclosed the indictment of an U.S. citizen who was allegedly prepared to fight jihad, inspired by al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki.
The National Security Strategy (PDF) warned that “several recent incidences of violent extremists in the United States who are committed to fighting here and abroad have underscored the threat to the United States and our interests posed by individuals radicalized at home. Our best defenses against this threat are well informed and equipped families, local communities, and institutions,” the report said.
The Justice Department has tried to carefully cultivate its relationship with Arab and Muslim-American civil rights organizations as it pursues aggressive law enforcement strategies to prevent terrorist attacks which continue to leave some groups saying they feel singled out for scrutiny.
Holder addressed one issue of tension - the Justice Department’s Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies, which was issued in 2003. Holder noted that he had initiated an internal review of the guidance in the fall.
“I’m committed to ensuring that department policy allows us to perform our core law enforcement and national security responsibilities with legitimacy, accountability and transparency,” Holder said. “But, today, I want to be clear about something: Racial profiling is wrong. It can leave a lasting scar on communities and individuals. And it is, quite simply, bad policing—whatever city, whatever state.”
Holder also highlighted the outreach efforts of the Arab/Muslim Engagement Advisory Group, which he established last year. He mentioned the FBI’s new Specialized Community Outreach Team (SCOT), DOJ’s Community Relations Service, the Office of Justice Programs and U.S. Attorneys who are working to strengthen the Arab-American community’s relationships with federal law enforcement.
“The era of ‘us versus them’ that some of you have experienced must end. At long last, it is ending. Together, we can make sure it’s replaced by a new era – an era that recognizes the truth reflected in this organization’s name – that regardless of our faiths, regardless of our backgrounds, we are all Americans,” Holder said.
The Justice Department’s relationship with ADC is not new. They worked together throughout the Bush administration, though there were a handful of flair-ups. Several Bush administration Justice Department officials, including former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Alexander Acosta have spoken to the group, as had former Attorney General Janet Reno.
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Speaking at the Migration Policy Institute’s E Pluribus Unum Prizes ceremony on Tuesday evening, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez said that he hoped the furor over Arizona’s immigration law wouldn’t obscure the contributions of immigrants in the history of the United States.
“I hope that we will not allow the storm clouds that we see sometimes on the horizon, whether they be in Arizona today, or wherever they might be tomorrow… to get in the way of our broader view,” Perez said.
At the awards ceremony for the non-partisan immigration think tank, Perez said it was essential that Congress pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul and called on members of both parties to change a system he said was broken.
“Immigration has always been a bipartisan issue, and I remain the eternal optimist… and I am absolutely optimistic that we can rekindle that immigrant spirit, we can rekindle that bipartisan spirit,” Perez said. “It is always the right time to do the right thing.”
Justice Department lawyers in the Civil Rights Division are said to be working around the clock analyzing Arizona’s immigration law, taking a look at whether to file a federal lawsuit challenging the law, an outside lawyer working with DOJ told The Washington Post. On Tuesday, Perez indicated that he came from a meeting related to deliberations over the immigration law.
The Arizona law is a hot button political topic. Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who came into office when former Gov. Janet Napolitano was appointed as Homeland Security Secretary, is seeking a full term and facing a tough Republican primary in August. This week her campaign launched a commercial featuring video of Attorney General Eric Holder’s admission that he didn’t read the Arizona immigration law.
Holder has said he has concerns about the “unfortunate” law, but did not think it was motivated by racism. He has said that “it is clear that a failure to act on the federal level is resulting in state policies that undermine our most cherished values and, quite frankly, our safety.”
Perez met with a group opposed to the Arizona law for over an hour earlier this month, but would not say whether the Department of Justice would challenge the law.
On Tuesday, Perez said that the national conversation about immigrants too often focuses on the negative.
“We’re oftentimes losing the battle of the soundbite, we all too frequently only hear the bad stories about immigrants,” Perez said. The U.S. must “show the world that we continue to be a nation of immigrants that values every person.”
Immigrants also contribute to the nation’s fiscal health, said Perez.
“We know the critical importance they are to our tax base, not simply documented immigrants but undocumented immigrants, who are paying billions of dollars into our Social Security system, hoping upon hope for comprehensive immigration reform, but frankly they’re playing the lottery right now because there is no guarantee of any return on investment,” said Perez.
Perez previously told the Anti-Defamation League that “ignorance and fear, coupled with the often heated rhetoric in Washington and in many state capitals, have no doubt fueled an increase in bias‐related incidents against Latinos nationwide.”
Outreach to immigrants has long been an important issue for Perez, who worked for the late senator and immigration advocate Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants who fled a dictatorship and sought asylum in the U.S., was the first Latino member of the Montgomery County Council in the Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., where he represented District Five — which largely consists of minorities. As a councilman, he proposed legislation to protect against discriminatory lending practices, a topic he’s taken on at the Justice Department.
As a team leader on the Obama transition team, Perez was an early contender to head U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. When he was nominated to head the Civil Rights Division, his work with CASA de Maryland, a support and advocacy group that helped Central American immigrants became a target for conservatives during his confirmation. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) argued the organization promoted illegal immigration, citing a pamphlet that advised illegal immigrants of their rights.
Also appearing at the ceremony was Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who has called the Arizona law “anti-American.”
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In an interview with Main Justice Monday, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten said as a native of New Orleans, he is proud of the Justice Department’s commitment to overhauling the city’s troubled police department.
“I know this community, I’m born and raised here in New Orleans. I’ve been U.S. Attorney here for a number of years, I’m a career prosecutor,” said Letten in an interview following Monday’s news conference, where federal officials announced they would conduct an investigation into the New Orleans Police Department. “On a professional level, and also on a very, very deeply personal level, I am committed to making sure that all of the resources possible are thrown into the process to help make NOPD the best police department in the country.”
Letten said the newly elected leadership in New Orleans was key to allowing the federal probe to more forward.
“I’ve known Mitch Landrieu since we were both very young men, and I have a great deal of respect for him. Literally, on the day after he won the election, my cell phone rang. It was a Sunday morning, and Mitch called me to acknowledge his interest in realizing a partnership with the Department of Justice,” Letten said.
Since that call, Letten said, Landrieu has continued to engage in robust dialogue with other DOJ officials, including Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Letten said he has spoken with Holder about the city’s police department several times, and the Attorney General is “very deeply aware of, committed to, and cognizant of the need for reform in the police department, the need for resources.”
“He is deeply aware of challenges our city and our department is faced,” Letten said. “This process didn’t happen yesterday.”
Letten also said the probe shows that the city is ready for changes.
“I’m extraordinarily excited to be in on the ground here in New Orleans. Our office has been aggressive and I think successful at I think attacking public corruption with a ferocity probably unmatched in recent history in this city, or perhaps in the history of this city at all. We’ve helped to fuel a real appetite for transparent government by the citizens and by the press corps, the press corps here really gets it.”
Perez will meet with community members to discuss their concerns about the police department. A local radio station has made audio of the news conference available on its website.
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The Justice Department will immediately begin an evaluation of the New Orleans Police Department that will likely lead to a consent decree, federal officials announced at a news conference Monday.
“We already have boots on the ground right now. We will spend a lot of time here in the weeks and months ahead in the city of New Orleans,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said Monday.
Earlier this month, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Department of Justice for help in rooting out abuse and corruption in the police department.
In a letter to Landrieu officially agreeing to conduct the assessment, Perez said the probe will identify areas or practices that need to be reformed and “examine allegations of excessive force, unconstitutional searches and seizures, racial profiling, failures to provide adequate police services to particular neighborhoods and related misconduct.”
At the news conference, Landrieu said that the city “must totally transform the criminal justice system.” He also called that the level of crime in the city was “unnatural and unacceptable.”
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten was also on hand for the announcement along with Department of Justice Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin Jr.
The assessment will likely lead to a consent decree with the city, a legally binding agreement that would allow the department to step in and institute changes, including the appointment of a federal monitor who would oversee any reforms.
Main Justice reported Friday that the Justice Department had accepted Landrieu’s request for an evaluation of the New Orleans Police Department.
The police department was already the subject of at least eight open civil rights investigations. DOJ had been investigating a post-Hurricane Katrina shooting in which New Orleans police officers allegedly shot at unarmed civilians in the wake of the 2005 hurricane that devastated the city.
Update 10:10 p.m. In an interview with The New York Times before the news conference, Perez said he was optimistic about the pattern and practice investigation because of unusually widespread support for federal involvement from New Orleans citizens and officials.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it in other cities at this early stage,” said Perez. “Often we spend months and sometimes years building that consensus.”
Perez said he felt that “right now the time is ripe and the critical forces have really come together.”
Leah Nylen contributed to this story.
UPDATE: The letter from Perez to Landrieu is embedded below.