Back in 2009, policing in America was not the hot-button issue it is today. Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder, launched his first pattern-or-practice investigation in March of that year. It was a probe into Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff’s office for reports of discriminating against Latinos and violating federal immigration laws. It would be several months before Holder would open one into New York’s Suffolk County Police Department for failing to investigate crimes committed against Latinos by whites and for dissuading Latinos from seeking help from law enforcement.
In Garland’s case, there’s some evidence DOJ was anticipating the reversal in policy — and had already laid the groundwork to move quickly in case the new attorney general was ready to start cracking down.
In background briefings with reporters in recent weeks, current Justice Department officials who requested they not be named said that career attorneys in the Special Litigation Section had been collecting data and materials to recommend to top brass to launch a probe in Minneapolis.
The officials declined to elaborate on how long staff attorneys had been looking into the matter, when the recommendation was made or whether Trump administration officials had rebuffed earlier requests.
But several former Justice Department officials interviewed for this story observed that the speed at which the DOJ was announcing the probes and charges likely meant the preliminary work had started under the previous administration.
Some suggested these cases were teed up by career attorneys to have them ready for when Biden administration appointees arrived — Garland in March, and Vanita Gupta, the former head of the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, as associate attorney general shortly thereafter.
“It could be that they had been looking into [these cases] since last year, but only got an administration that’s going to proceed, recently,” said Ed Caspar, senior counsel for the nonpartisan Counsel for Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. He worked in the Civil Rights Division under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.