Read the transcript here:
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch: All right. Good morning, all, and thank you all for being here. I am joined today by Vanita Gupta, head of the Department [of Justice] Civil Rights Division, and Zachary Fardon, United States Attorney for Illinois. The Department of Justice is committed to upholding the highest standards throughout the United States. Every American expects and deserves the protection of law enforcement that is effective, responsive, respectful, and most importantly, constitutional. When community members feel they are not receiving that kind of policing, when they feel ignored, let down, or mistreated by public safety officials, there are profound consequences for the well-being of their communities. There are profound consequences for the rule of law and the countless law enforcement officers who strive to fulfill their duties with professionalism and integrity. Today, I'm here to announce the Department of Justice has opened an investigation into if the Chicago Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of violations of the Constitution or federal law. Specifically, we will examine a number of issues related to the Chicago Police Department's use of force, including its use of deadly force; racial, ethnic, and other disparities in its use of force; and its accountability mechanisms, such as disciplinary actions and its handling of allegations of misconduct. This investigation has been requested by a number of state and local officials and community leaders but has been opened only as this department can best use our tools and resources to best meet Chicago's needs.
In the coming months, this investigation will be conducted by experienced career attorneys from the civil rights division with the assistance of the United State's Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois. They will conduct a thorough, impartial, and independent review of the allegations, and the team will meet with a broad cross-section of community members, city officials, and law enforcement command staff and officers to both explain our process and to hear from anyone who wishes to share information relevant to this investigation. We will examine with our experts policies, practices, and data. At the end of our investigation, we will issue a report of our findings, and if we discover unconstitutional patterns or practices, the Department of Justice will announce them publicly. We will seek a court-enforceable agreement with the Chicago Police Department and work with the city to institute appropriate reforms
Our goal in this investigation, as in all of our pattern of practice investigations, is not to focus on individuals, but to improve systems to ensure officers are being provided with the tools they need, including training, policy guidance, and equipment to be more effective, to partner with civilians, and to strengthen public safety. We understand that the same systems that fail community members also [fail] conscientious officers by creating mistrust between law enforcement and the citizens that we are sworn to serve and protect. This mistrust for members of the community makes it more difficult to gain help with investigations, to encourage victims and witnesses of crime to speak up, and to fulfill the most basic responsibilities of public safety officials. When suspicion and hostility is allowed to fester, it can erupt into unrest.
Building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities we serve is one of my highest priorities as attorney general. The Department of Justice intends to do everything that we can to foster those bonds and create safer and fairer communities across the country. Regardless of the ultimate findings of this investigation, we will seek to work with local officials, with residents, and law enforcement officers alike to ensure that the people of Chicago have the world-class police department that they deserve. Thank you so much. At this time, I'm happy to take a few questions.
Reporter: Should the investigation extend to the Cook County State's Attorney? So few officers have actually been charged in shootings...
Lynch: Our investigation is focused on use of force and accountability within the police department. We'll be looking at how force, including deadly force, is handled, investigated, and how offices are held accountable. That is our focus right now.
Reporter: We are very interested in Chicago and the status of the joint state-federal investigation that has taken place, if you are aware of the video document released by the city.
Lynch: With respect to the investigation into the death of Mr. Laquan McDonald, as has been announced earlier, that investigation is ongoing and is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois. As all of our investigations into if there has been a civil rights violation, particularly when there has been a death resulting from police interaction, those investigations are thorough, independent, impartial. We reviewed the relevant federal statutes, which are a different set of statutes from what the state's attorney has at their disposal, and we are thorough and efficient. We do not predict the timing of any of those investigations, so I'm not able to give you that particular answer.
Reporter: What about the documents that came out that talk about how the police account of what happened is different from what the video shows?
Lynch: All information will be factored into the investigation. We do not comment on that evidence while the investigation is ongoing, but all that information is factored in, and I'm not able to give you any more comments at this time.
Reporter: I was curious since Chicago is one of the largest police departments in the country, how does he size affect the ability... because I imagine if you look into a department with that many offices, you will find some bad apples, but also plenty of upstanding police officers. It is 10 times bigger than Ferguson, [Mo.]. I'm curious how much that [complicates] your efforts.
Lynch: It is important to note when we do a pattern of practice investigation, particularly when we focus on systems involving use of force, deadly force, and accountability, what we are looking at to see is how the Chicago Police Department tracks and treats those types of actions. A lot of the review we do is of the systems of the Chicago Police Department, and of course, that will entail a review of how they handle specific matters, but what we are looking at is to see if the police department as a systemic matter has engaged in unconstitutional violations of policing. This involves a review, as you note, of a host of evidence, but because this case will be what... will be worked in conjunction with the civil rights division, we feel confident we will be able to cover that.
Reporter: Will City Hall -- will officials at City Hall be part of this review ? Second, a question to Mr. Fardon, will you be considering obstruction of justice charges against any police officer who may have been on the scene that night?
Lynch: With respect to your first question, what we will be looking at, again, is the Chicago Police Department's method and manner of dealing with use of force, particularly deadly force, and if we find racial, ethnic, and other disparities in how they handle those force allegations. It will encompass a number of things, including how officers are disciplined, and the disciplinary systems. We will be working with city officials, but the matters that you are talking about seem to relate to a different issue. What I will say is that we will take information from all interested parties. We are particularly interested in hearing from community groups and community members. We are particularly interested in hearing from the rank and file police department, and, obviously, we do have contact with City Hall, as we do this investigation, but our investigation is independent. It is not tied to the findings or actions of other entities, and with respect to your second question, I believe you had a question about the specific McDonald investigation.
Reporter: [Will you] consider obstruction of justice charges, possibly against other officers in the Chicago Police Department?
Lynch: At this point in time, we are not predicting what charges, if any, will be brought. I will tell you as a general matter when we have an open investigation, we do not discuss what specific charges will be brought until the resolution of that investigation.
U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Zachary Fardon: What she said. Thank you, Attorney General. I will add, as the Attorney General has explained, [it] is important to understand that the pattern of practice investigation being launched today, which is very important to the city of Chicago — I do understand.
Reporter: For the people that live in the greater Chicagoland region, who are concerned about that, given recent reports that there are differing versions of what happened out there, and they do not seem to jive, if you will, with what we see on the video...
Fardon: Completely understand your question. It's important to recognize that today's pattern of practice investigation and the launch of the investigation is related to and inseparable from what -- related to and inseparable from what you are asking about, and we do not comment on current investigations other than to reiterate what the attorney general has already said, which is we do what we do independently. We do it with vigor. We look at all relevant aspects and options related to this case. Chicago has a great history of doing that and proving that it is both independent and appropriately aggressive when it comes to ferreting out criminal conduct, but I'm not going to comment on the specifics as to this particular investigation.
Reporter: This is a question for both of you, if you will. Part of the criticism of this case has been how long it has taken for any measure of justice to be taken as a result of what happened in that incident. My understanding is that the big piece of evidence, the video, was turned over to federal authorities nine days after it happened. Can you confirm that and tell us what has taken this long?
Fardon: I'm not going to speak to timelines, specifically what evidence we received and when we received it during the course of the investigation. What I will say is we have pursued all of the facts and circumstances relevant to Mr. McDonald's death with vigor, earnestness, passion, as we approach any investigative matter -- circumstances relevant to Mr. McDonald's death.
Reporter: Why is this not seen as part of the misconduct investigation?
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch: At this point in time, the investigation is focusing on use of force in the Chicago Police Department. They are not in this time in the purview of our investigation, but as we have notified the city, as with every pattern of practice investigation, we always reserve the right to expand it should more information come to light and require a review of constitutional issues there as well, but at this point in time, it is a use of force investigation. Young lady in front.
Reporter: Yesterday, the president talked about urging Muslim leaders to step up their efforts to stop radicalization in their communities. Can you talk about the Justice Department increasing its effort in this area in terms of outreach or changing any other areas in terms of resource allocation?
Lynch: With respect to the engagement of the Muslim community in dealing with the issue of homegrown violent extremism and the susceptibility, particularly of young people, to these messages from abroad that encourage them down the path of radicalization, the president was appropriately noting that this is a problem for all Americans and every community has a stake in dealing with this issue and that when people may be closest to a situation, they have a responsibility as well to try to intervene. We are always reviewing our effort to counter extremism, not just the Department of Justice but the Department of Homeland Security. Every United States Attorney's Office is involved in outreach to Arab Muslim communities, and we are always looking — looking to improve not only our relations with those communities but how those communities are empowered to deal with those issues as well. One of the things I always talk about when I meet with parents of a variety of communities is to ask if they know what their children are doing online. As many of you will doubtless agree, it is very difficult to get a handle on that. There's a number of areas in which we think the Muslim-American community can be very effective and proactive in helping resolve these issues.
Reporter: I would like to ask about another civil rights investigation. You talk about building trust between communities. Can you talk about the status of the Eric Garner investigation, and are you close to closing that with no charges?
Lynch: That investigation is also still active and ongoing. It is open, so I am not able to comment on the specifics. When we come to a resolution, we will announce it there. I'm not able to comment on that case specifically, except to say it is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, an office with which I have some passing familiarity, and that investigation also is independent, impartial, thorough and it is reviewing all the relevant issues in that case.
Reporter: Yesterday, on the eve of your news conference is morning, the head of the Illinois Police Review Authority resigned. Obviously, the accountability mechanisms in the state are part of the review process. Can you talk about how important it is to have a functioning discipline system for police who do fall off the path?
Lynch: I do not have a comment with the personnel actions that may have been taken at this time, but whenever we have an investigation, particularly into use of force and accountability, the issues of how a police department not only tracks but resolves and disciplines for those uses of force is a key element of that. That's one of the many things we will be looking at and reviewing. I do not want to make it seem simply as though we are limited to looking at Chicago systems because, of course, we need to hear from community members, from residents who have experienced situations where they may feel that the use of force was not dealt with appropriately, so we can compare those to how it is handled internally. The investigation covers a host of issues. I do not want to make it seem as though we are looking only at Chicago systems because it is very important that we hear also from community members. It is also important we hear from rank-and-file police officers about their perceptions of their training, their perceptions of how use of force is handled from their perspective as well.
Reporter: Question in place for Vanita Gupta. Based on your experience in these kinds of investigations, what would the prospective timeline be in Chicago? Are we talking months or years?
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta: As you know, probably, we are unable to give any specific timeline. All we are able to say is that the department will be conducting this review in a very thorough manner and will not leave any stone unturned, and we look forward to working with everyone who has a stake in the Chicago Police Department.
Reporter: As a sort of follow up to that, how far back does a review like this one go? Three years? 10 years? How do you determine if a department as big as Chicago has a pattern of practice?
Lynch: It is hard to say at this point how far back we will go safely because we have yet to begin, but we look at civilian complaints, trends in civilian complaints, trends and accountability, trends in discipline. We may start with one perspective, and it could very easily expand into a longer time frame. At this point, I'm not going to comment on the time period -- I'm not going to comment on the time period, the review.
Reporter: I think in the Cleveland Police investigation, it went for 21 months. Are you confident that this Chicago pattern of practice review will be completed in your tenure? My main question is about the terrorism investigation. You mentioned in your interview on NBC that you were not sure what ideology motivated this attack, but then we have the president give a big Oval Office address talking about how we are going to step up our fight against ISIL, talking about this attack in some detail. How should I reconcile those things? Are you now confident this did have something to do with ISIL, whether or not it was directed by them?
Lynch: I will deal with those in reverse order. At this point, we are discussing the San Bernadino investigation because we want the public to be aware of how these investigations are conducted, of their complexity and the fact that they are in fact a marathon and not a sprint, so we are trying to keep people informed while also maintaining the integrity of investigative techniques and the like. You do have us talking about this investigation more than we can talk about others. For example, as you see from the questions here today. At this point, we are not prepared to say -- we are not prepared to limit any particular ideology to what may have inspired these individuals. There are a number of groups that are on social media looking to encourage people to commit acts of violence within the homeland, and so at this point, we simply do not want to rule anything out. The president was talking about, however, the specter of ISIS, which is an involved in... against American interests here and abroad, and our campaign to defeat ISIS, but also other terrorist groups that seek to harm American interests here and abroad. With respect to your question about the timing, again, we cannot give you any prediction. It is my view that these are significant, important, and we feel they will be carried out because, frankly, it is in the interest of the people of Chicago who deserve a world-class police department, who deserve constitutional policing.
Reporter: I was wondering why the department did not open an investigation into the Chicago Police Department before the Illinois Attorney General called for it, given the volume of complaints against the department, and for how long the Justice Department was aware ofthe video of Laquan McDonald's shooting death.
Lynch: We are not going to comment on the timeline of the evidence that comes in. We did receive a request from a number of people to look at the Chicago Police Department. We considered those requests and what we saw the Chicago did -- the Chicago Police Department [did]. A combination of factors, a review by the [correct] people has led us to come to this conclusion that this pattern of practice investigation is necessary.
Reporter: Is the Department of Civil Rights Division prepared, in terms of funding and staffing, to deal with these, or do you worry the system is going to be overwhelmed by these investigations?
Lynch: I will take additional resources should Congress allocate them to me. We are confident the team we are building, that this team will be well-staffed ... We work closely with our attorneys' offices on these matters. They are the one to bring them to our attention and work as we see on the underlying cases.
Reporter: Do you have an idea of how many people you have deployed, and do you bring in outside contractors and academics to help sift through this?
Lynch: It changes over time as we see the issues. In these cases, we rely upon police experts and people who are statisticians. In this instance, we are not predicting the number of those individuals involved. It may change, the more we get into the matter.
Reporter: you mentioned a preliminary review that was done. Can you elaborate on what was -- to make you think there may be systemic problems, looking into what kind of problems did you hear?
Atty. Loretta Lynch: No. Nice try. We do not go into that. We did review the requests. We reviewed and felt this investigation was appropriate and this was the time to open the investigation.
Reporter: Talking about the number of investigations taking place, they are reactionary to instances, some which have led to civil unrest. What can the department do beforehand to try to prevent things like this from happening?
Lynch: All of the pattern and practice investigations are not totally reactionary in terms of specific cases. We often have situations where police departments reach out to us and request assistance. In the Baltimore situation, that was ongoing. After working with the police department, we felt a pattern of practice investigation was required. That was one where it had come about as a result of a different type of process. When you talk with the police department, we are looking to see the depths of the issues, whether the constitutional issues are implicated.
Reporter: This administration has been aggressive about opening civil rights cases. You have a limited number of resources. The hope is some would see these cases and take a hint and take care of their problems. A couple days ago, the mayor of Chicago did not get it. Are these high-profile investigations sending a message?
Lynch: In my discussions with police officers across the country, they look carefully at the Department of Justice actions. They look at the issues that spurred a pattern of practice investigation and try to implement issues or changes to avoid getting into that situation. That is our hope. That is what we hope for. We hope the reports, on our websites, we hope they talk about situations in which police departments find themselves possibly having violated the constitution. Police departments will and should look at those reports and take action before it arises to the level of a specific case or an incident involving a civilian and law enforcement officer, or the department having to take action.
Reporter: When did your preliminary investigation begin? Before the call by the State Attorney General? Did it begin before the public release of the video?
Lynch: I am not commenting on the timing of that.
Reporter: Last week, the mayor of Chicago did not want the Justice Department involved in the city. He has relented. How confident are you that you are going to get the cooperation?
Lynch: We go into these investigations hoping we receive the cooperation of the city. In a situation where we would not, we engage with them and let them know what we need and why it is important. We go in with a view that we will get the cooperation of the city and the community. It is important to hear from community members about these types of interactions.
Reporter: Last week, at the Muslim advocates dinner, you commented on DOJ working towards protecting those of the Muslim community and anti-Muslim rhetoric that might come out ofthe attack that just occurred in San Bernardino. Can you elaborate on measures DOJ is undertaking at the moment to look at the red flags of that?
Lynch: As we prosecute deeds, not words, we have a concern when we see rhetoric rising against any particular group in America. That it might inspire others to violence and that violent action is what we would have to deal with. I would refer to how the president dealt with it last night. As we consider the ways in which we keep American interests safe here and abroad, not to interfere and let fear abandon -- let fear make us abandon our values. We focus on protecting all of the people. Concerns are that the understandable fears out there after San Bernardino not lead people to take the law into their own hands or take actions that will not be justified.
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