MOUNT VERNON, Westchester County (WABC) -- The Mount Vernon Police Department, which has been accused of pervasive misconduct, particularly the singling out of Black residents for abuse and excessive force, is the focus of a newly announced federal investigation into alleged civil rights violations.
The investigation, announced Friday by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams along with Kristen Clarke, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, will look into the Mount Vernon Police Department's use of force, strip and body cavity searches, and how it handles evidence.
"When officers break the law they violate their oath and undermine a community's trust. The investigation we are announcing today will assess whether the Mount Vernon Police Department engages in discriminatory conduct, singling out Black residents for mistreatment," Williams said.
The investigation would also work to determine whether the department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing, including the use of excessive force and falsifying evidence.
The mayor of Mount Vernon, Shawyn Patterson-Howard, pledged cooperation, Williams said.
Just a few months after she took office in January, Westchester District Attorney Miriam Rocah called on the Justice Department to open an investigation into the department.
In a letter to MVPD Commissioner of Public Safety Glenn Scott, Rocah wrote: "My concern arises not from a single, isolated complaint, but from a number of them from 2012-20, making similar allegations of certain police officers illegally or inappropriately conducting these highly invasive searches without the high legal and/or factual predicate thresholds having been satisfied."
Rocah said the complaints arose from ongoing criminal investigations by her office into Mount Vernon police officers.
"In the course of those investigations, based largely on publicly available information, we have found disturbing allegations of patterns of inappropriate and potentially unlawful conduct by several former and current members of the MVPD," Rocah said in a news release publicly calling for the federal investigation.
Following the announcement of the federal investigation, Rocah released the following statement:
I commend the Department of Justice and the Southern District of New York for dedicating substantial federal resources to vigorously defend the civil rights laws through a comprehensive investigation of possible violations of civil liberties by the Mount Vernon Police Department. Shortly after taking office, I referred certain practices of the MVPD to DOJ. Today's announcement demonstrates that parallel parts of the justice system operate to help create a safe environment for our communities. Out of respect for the federal investigation, my office will have no further comment at this time.
The civil investigation is the fourth of its kind undertaken by the Biden Justice Department after the practice policing the police was largely abandoned during the prior administration.
The Justice Department earlier this year announced similar investigations into police departments in Phoenix, Arizona, Louisville, Kentucky and Minneapolis, Minnesota where another arm of the Justice Department is also putting on trial former officer Derek Chauvin and other former officers involved in the murder of George Floyd.
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