BATON ROUGE, La. (BPROUD) — The Department of Justice announces Thursday that they will be conducting the first statewide pattern or practice investigation of a law enforcement agency in more than two decades.

“Today the justice department is opening a civil investigation into the Louisiana State Police and the State of Louisiana,” Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke said.

A joint “pattern or practice investigation” was announced by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern, Middle, and Western Districts of Louisiana.

“We cannot ignore any allegation of constitutional violation,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Duane A. Evans said.

This civil investigation is separate from other federal investigations into the State Police. The NAACP of Baton Rouge released a statement in favor of the DOJ’s joint investigation but notes the need for a conclusion into the Ronald Greene investigation.

“We at the NAACP applaud this investigation being launched. It’s a monumental move, that has to potential to systematically change Policing in our State. At the same time, we hope for a swift conclusion to the investigation surrounding Ronald Greene. It’s been too long and this Family deserves more,”
said Eugene Collins, president of NAACP Baton Rouge.

“The DOJ opening a Patterns & Practices investigation into LSP is a monumental step towards true systematic shift that will affect all law enforcement agencies throughout the State of Louisiana. We have remained steadfast that an independent investigation into LSP is the only way to achieve real change. Now we have that. We would not be here if it were not for the brave families and victims who spoke up when few would listen, ” said Lee Merritt, Ron Haley, Mark McGuire, who represent the Greene family.

The civil investigation will specifically seek to find answers to whether the Louisiana State Police uses excessive force and if it engages in racially discriminatory policing.

“We find significant justification to open this investigation,” Clarke said. “For example, we have received information about the repeated use of excessive force often against people who are suspected of minor traffic offenses are already handcuffed or are not resisting. In some cases, the injuries these individuals suffered were severe, including the death of at least one individual.”

The investigation will include sifting over data including incident reports and body camera videos, and they are asking the public to come forward with any relevant information.

“We ask that the community to become a part of the process,” U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana Ronald C. Gathe Jr. said.

“During the press conference today, the word ‘trust’ was used several times, as members of the US Department of Justice explained how our communities have lost trust in the system. That trust and confidence is difficult to repair, but we are pleased to see that the DOJ has heard our cries for justice, and we support the intention in opening this investigation. Many of our citizens feel that the system has failed them in, and the Ronald Greene case is one very important example of that. With this investigation, we hope to see true change in our systems, here at home in Louisiana and across the country,” said State Representative Vincent Pierre, who’s also a chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus (LLBC).

When the investigation is complete a report will be made public. If violations are found, Clarke said they will aim to work cooperatively with the state to fix the problems.

“If an agreement cannot be reached the justice department is authorized to bring a civil lawsuit seeking injunctive relief to address the violations,” Clarke said.

The governor’s office released a statement saying both Governor Edwards and State Police Colonel Lamar Davis pledge their support and cooperation with this federal investigation.

“I welcome the U.S Department of Justice’s civil investigation into the patterns and practices of Louisiana State Police. It is deeply troubling that allegations of systemic misconduct exist that would warrant this type of investigation, but it is absolutely critical that all Louisianans, especially African Americans and other people of color, have their faith, confidence, and trust in public safety officers restored,” Edwards said in a statement.

House Speaker Clay Schexnayder released a statement also released a statement in support of the investigation.

“We’re glad to see the United States Department of Justice has decided to broaden their investigation into the circumstances surrounding and following the death of Ronald Greene, as well as other questionable cases within the Office of State Police, to uncover the truth and circumstances surrounding recent incidents. We believe new information uncovered through the House created special committee has played a major role in this decision by the DOJ to take action nearly three years after the Ronald Greene incident. While we have the utmost respect and regard for our Louisiana state troopers, we also understand that there are times when shining a light on questionable behavior by some must take place. We will see our commitment through and continue to hold hearings in our search for the truth surrounding the death of Ronald Greene and hold accountable those responsible,” Schexnayder said.