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Phoenix Councilwoman Ann O’Brien issues statement regarding DOJ denial

Phoenix Councilwoman Ann O’Brien earlier this year at City Council chambers in Downtown Phoenix. (Photo by Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress)
Department of Justice Phoenix Police investigation examines excessive force claims
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

District 1 Phoenix City Councilwoman Ann O’Brien has issued a statement via the social media platform ‘X’ in response to the Department of Justice’s denial of the municipality’s request to gain early access to the findings of the ongoing investigation into excessive force claims at the Phoenix Police Department.

Ms. O’Brien, who represents District 1 and is co-chair of the Public Safety & Justice Subcommittee at Phoenix City Council, is seeking a 30-day period to respond formally to the findings of the investigation.

“In a response to two letters sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) via the city’s outside counsel, and likely as a result of my op-ed and last week’s AZCentral article, the DOJ has doubled down on their refusal to provide the city sufficient time to review the findings before forcing us to commit to an agreement in principle (AIP),” Councilwoman O’Brien said in her statement.

The Department of Justice in August 2021 announced a Civil Pattern or Practice investigation into the claims of excessive force at the Phoenix Police Department, which at the time marked the 71st investigation of the nature since the Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

In her statement, Councilwoman O’Brien points out DOJ officials note the positive working relationship between Phoenix Police and federal investigators.

“As a reminder, the city of Phoenix has opened its doors to the DOJ, knowing we have nothing to hide. We have turned over more than 179,000 documents, 20 terabytes of data, over 22,115 body-worn camera videos, and 220 recordings of 911 calls,” Councilwoman O’Brien said in her statement. “We have coordinated more than 200 hours of ride-alongs, 130 interviews with police department and city staff, and allowed our police chief and city manager to be interviewed by the DOJ. We have been transparent and collaborative.”

Councilwoman O’Brien has made it clear she has concerns around formal, blanket agreements such as a consent decree.

“Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division told us in a Nov. 29th letter, ‘In certain circumstances, we may decide to provide a short time for jurisdictions to read the findings report prior to public release — for example, where those jurisdictions commit to an agreement in principle to enter into a consent decree with an independent monitor,’” Councilwoman O’Brien said in her statement. “In the past, the “short time” given to jurisdictions who sign an AIP has been 24-48 hours to review, research, and respond back. I am uncertain about how this speaks to the transparency and collaboration the DOJ prides itself on.”

Department of Justice Phoenix Police investigation examines excessive force claims

Provided by Phoenix officials, the Department of Justice’s investigation entails five specific areas. They are:

  • Assess all types of force, including deadly force.
  • Whether PPD engages in retaliatory activity against people for conduct protected by the First Amendment.
  • Whether PPD engages in discriminatory policing.
  • Whether PPD unlawfully seizes or disposes of the belongings of individuals experiencing homelessness.
  • Assess City and Police systems and practices for responding to people with disabilities.

Councilwoman O’Brien says she is requesting a 30-day window to evaluate the findings and formally respond to the Department of Justice.

“It’s clear the DOJ’s only end game is for all jurisdictions it investigates to enter into a consent decree,” Councilwoman O’Brien said in her statement.

“In fact, the agreement in principle Louisville committed to and the agreement in principle Minneapolis committed to are word for word — minus the paragraphs related directly to the accusations for each city. I remain steadfast in my statement that I will sign no documents without first getting to review, research, and respond back to the findings report. 24 to 48 hours is not an adequate amount of time to review — which is why I’m asking for a minimum of 30 days.”

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