Jim Mustian
Jim is an investigative reporter for breaking news
JimMustianJMustian@ap.org

DOJ: Civil rights probe targets suburban NYC police force

December 3, 2021 GMT

Federal prosecutors announced a civil rights investigation Friday into a police department in suburban New York City accused of using excessive force and conducting illegal strip searches.

The U.S. Justice Department will examine whether the Mount Vernon Police Department has engaged in “pattern or practice of discriminatory policing,” authorities said.

The review will include an assessment of the department’s uses of force, strip and body cavity searches and how officers handle evidence.

The Justice Department this year announced similar investigations into police forces in Minneapolis, after the death of George Floyd, and in Louisville, Kentucky, after the death of Breonna Taylor. It also launched a pattern or practice probe into the police in Phoenix.

“Police officers have tough jobs, and so many do their work honorably, lawfully, and with distinction,” Damian Williams, the Manhattan U.S. attorney, said in a statement Friday. “But when officers break the law, they violate their oath and undermine a community’s trust.”

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The announcement came seven months after Mimi Rocah, the Westchester County district attorney, called on the Justice Department to investigate whether the small police department north of the Bronx is “systematically violating peoples’ civil rights.” She cited a pattern of unjustified strip searches and body cavity searches and “potentially unlawful conduct by several former and current” Mount Vernon police officers.

One former officer, James Ready, pleaded guilty this summer to assaulting a handcuffed and shackled man in a hospital — a body-slamming caught on surveillance video. The officer also admitted falsifying records and lying about the 2019 attack in an effort to cover it up.

Ready’s plea agreement calls for him to be placed on probation. Rocah’s office recently denied a public records request for the surveillance footage from The Associated Press, saying the case remains open.