Federal prosecutors announced Friday that they were investigating the Mount Vernon Police Department. The the probe will investigate whether the ministry has engaged in discriminatory policing practice and will review the history of the ministry’s use of force, evidence handling and strip searches and body searches.
The announcement follows a year-long Gothamist / WNYC investigation into the ailing Westchester County Police Department, which uncovered civilian allegations of police brutality and theft dating back to 2014, a whistleblower’s tapes from police alleging drug planting and alliances with key city drug dealers, and explosive videos of strip searches and body searches that officers said violated department rules. The allegations reported in the series led to the dissolution of the Police Department’s Narcotics Unit, and played a major role in the defeat of the then-based Westchester District Attorney.
At the press conference, Kristen Clarke, deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, said the investigation followed a review of “publicly available information”, citing information about searches strip and potentially illegal body searches and alleged violence against handcuffed residents and minors.
âUnder the Fourth Amendment, we have the right not to use excessive force. We have the right to be free from strip searches and unlawful body searches, âsaid Kristen Clarke, deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice‘s Civil Rights Division at the press conference. “We also have the right to be free from fabricated or falsified evidence.”
âPolice officers have tough jobs, and many do their jobs honorably, legally and with distinction, respecting the rights of the citizens they have sworn to protect,â said Damian Williams, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. âBut when officers break the law, they break their oath and undermine a community’s trust. “
This marks the fourth model or practice survey launched this year by the Department of Justice, which has also started to look into allegations of police misconduct in Phoenix, Louisville, and Minneapolis.
The inquiry also follows public appeals by Westchester County Prosecutor Mimi Rocah, who took office earlier this year after defeating her predecessor in a controversial Democratic primary, to investigate the police department.
As Gothamist / WNYC investigations previously revealed, under Rocah’s predecessor Anthony Scarpino, the Westchester County Prosecutor received disturbing tapes alleging widespread corruption and brutality within the department’s narcotics unit. . Despite the possession of these tapes, the then prosecutor’s office continued to pursue Residents of Mount Vernon charged with crimes by numerous officers reported in those tapes without disclosing the evidence to their lawyers.
“I commend the Department of Justice and the Southern District of New York for devoting substantial federal resources to the vigorous defense of civil rights laws through a thorough investigation into possible violations of civil liberties by the Department of Mount Vernon police, âRocah said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors said the investigation will examine the internal disciplinary process of the Mount Vernon Police Department and solicit information from community groups and members of the public.
Civil rights lawyers, who have filed a lawsuit against the police department, welcomed the announcement.
“I think this is a great day for the community of Mount Vernon and for the good cops in the Mount Vernon Police Department,” said Joseph Murray, an attorney representing Murashea Bovell, the police whistleblower. who shared his secret recordings of colleagues and prosecutors with Gothamist. / WNYC last year. “Finally, they’re dealing with those long-standing complaints about police misconduct.”
“I brought the alleged wrongful conviction cases to the attention of new District Attorney Mimi Rocah – whose office, unlike her predecessor’s, seemed as shocked and appalled at what we had discovered as I did -” and I have filed a number of civil rights lawsuits, âsaid Karen Newirth, a lawyer who previously worked for The Exoneration Project and Loevy & Loevy. “I couldn’t be happier knowing that DOJ takes these allegations seriously and I look forward to justice for the residents of Mount Vernon.”
Nicholas Mastrogiorgio, president of the Mount Vernon Police Association, said its members welcome and will cooperate “in any way necessary” to the federal investigation.
“I have no doubts that the members of the Mount Vernon Police Department work with the utmost professionalism and treat all residents of the Town of Mount Vernon fairly and equitably,” he said. âI’m sure this investigation will prove it. I just hope the Southern District of New York and the Department of Justice deliver the positive results of this investigation with as much fanfare as they used to announce the start of this one. “
A spokesperson for the City of Mount Vernon did not respond to requests for comment.
Williams said if his office discovered an unconstitutional or illegal policing model or practice, he would issue a report and could bring a civil action seeking a federal court order for the Mount Vernon Police Department to change its police practices.
George Joseph is a reporter for the WNYC / Gothamist Public Safety Unit. You can send him advice on Facebook, Twitter @ georgejoseph94, Instagram @ georgejoseph81, and to [email protected]. His encrypted signal phone and application number is 929-486-4865.