Michigan AG wants more power from feds to investigate police misconduct

Posted at 5:17 PM, Jun 04, 2020

(WXYZ) — Michigan’s Attorney General is calling for change in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Dana Nessel is joining other attorneys general across the country, asking Congress to allow state AG’s to stop patterns of police misconduct if the Department of Justice won’t act.

“We have to do better,” Dana Nessel told 7 Investigator Heather Catallo during an interview Wednesday.

Nessel signed a letter to Congress along with 17 other attorneys general around the country to ask for more power from Congress. They say the Department of Justice is no longer using consent decrees to oversee police agencies with repeated civil rights and use of force abuses against people of color.

“The Department of Justice is basically useless when it comes to oversight of rogue police agencies that are violating people’s civil rights,” said Nessel.

Nessel says the states want the power to enter into those oversight agreements if the feds won’t act.

“So we can ensure that each of these agencies are comporting with the law. If the DOJ is not going to do it, there has to be another mechanism, and I think that state AG’s really are the perfect place for that to occur,” said Nessel.

According to the coalition of attorneys general, the DOJ initiated 69 pattern-or-practice investigations between 1994 and 2017. That resulted in 40 consent decrees with police departments around the country, including the Detroit Police Department. However, the coalition says since 2017, the DOJ has “largely curtailed the ability of federal law enforcement to use court-enforced agreements to reform local police departments.” No pattern-or-practice investigations have been initiated since 2017.

Here in Michigan, the Attorney General also says she’s already asking all county prosecutors to let her office investigate any deaths that occur while someone is in custody to avoid any conflicts of interest.

“When you are a county prosecutor, and when you work in a county prosecutors office, part of your job is to develop really close relationships with the police officers that you work with all day, every day. So it becomes a problem when you end up having to investigate these same officers that are your colleagues and you work with all the time,” said Nessel.

“Whether it’s intentional or not, you do form a bias because you know these people personally-- you can’t help it.”

Nessel also wants to make all of those investigations public if an officer is not charged.

“If someone has died at the hands of a police officer and that case has come to our department and no warrant ever issues, and we clear that officer, you’re going to know exactly why. You’ll never be left wondering, why we did what we did,” said Nessel.

Nessel also wants the state to establish a special independent board that can investigate and keep track of every case that involves use of force.

“There are people assigned to do investigations, there are people that do the reviews, and that way you have more focused but also more standardized procedures for what the disciplinary actions are,” said Nessel.

The Attorney General also wants there to be mandatory continuing education for police officers, and she supports SB 945 that passed the Michigan senate Wednesday. The bill would require training about implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, and mental health screenings.