Justice Department condemns unconstitutional conduct of Puerto Rico police

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) on Sept. 8 announced its findings from a three-year investigation that the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) has engaged in repeated unlawful and unconstitutional behavior. The investigation, which began in June 2008, uncovered the PRPD use of excessive and unreasonable force, failure to protect First Amendment rights, and unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests. In its executive summary report (PDF), the DoJ acknowledged that the rights violations corresponded with a period of increased crime and pressure on the PRPD. However, such circumstances did not excuse the misconduct:

[I]ncreasing crime cannot be used to justify continued civil rights violations or the failure to implement meaningful reforms. Constitutional policing and effective law enforcement are inextricably bound. Public safety depends on the trust and cooperation of the community, which in turn depends on constitutional police practices that respect civil rights. Our previous efforts in working with large police departments strongly suggest that by addressing the civil rights concerns we raise in this report, the Commonwealth will not only meet its constitutional duty, but also reduce crime, improve public safety, and increase community confidence.

The DoJ also identified the PRPD’s failure to report or investigate allegations of sex crimes and domestic violence, as well as police discrimination against Dominican individuals. The DoJ aims to work with the PRPD and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to eliminate unlawful police behavior and create more transparency and accountability for law enforcement.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) earlier this year urged the DoJ to take action against the government of Puerto Rico for alleged civil rights violations. In a letter addressed to Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, the ACLU asked the DoJ to conclude its investigation into rights abuses reported by the ACLU of Puerto Rico since 2008 and publish a report of its findings. It also urged the DoJ to intervene to provide remedies to end the alleged police abuses which included: violence against student protesters; the fabrication of drug-related charges against over a 100 individuals in the city of Mayaguez; the violent and inhumane eviction of members of the Villas del Sol squatter community, including the denial of fresh water to the community for eight months; the de-certification of the Puerto Rico Bar Association and other actions to stifle dissent. Residents of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory, are US citizens and have the same federal First Amendment and due process rights in relation to the island’s government as a mainland US citizen would have against a state government.

From Jurist, Sept. 8. Used with permission.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.