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Department of Justice investigating how CCPD handles complaints

By Staff | Dec 1, 2010

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether the Cape Coral Police Department discriminates against blacks and Hispanics who attempt to file a complaint regarding treatment by officers.
On Nov. 23, the Cape department was notified by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division that the agency is investigating a complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of race, Black, and national origin, Latino. The document lists the complainant as the president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
“Please note that our decision to initiate an investigation does not reflect any determination as to the merits of the complaint,” the document states. “Our goal is to investigate this matter in a fair and impartial manner and to work with you to reach a productive and amicable resolution.”
James Muwakkil is the president of the Lee County branch of the NAACP.
According to the document, Muwakkil alleges that the CCPD discriminates against blacks and Hispanics when they try to file complaints. Specifically, he alleges that:
* Complaint forms are not accessible to citizens.
* Citizens are being required to speak to a supervisor before being allowed to file a complaint.
* Citizens are required to wait one to two hours in order to speak with a supervisor.
* Citizens are being intimidated by supervisors by highlighting that perjury will get the citizen in trouble.
* Supervisors sometimes write the complaint themselves and change the wording of citizens’ complaints.
Muwakkil said that his organization has raised the issues with the CCPD about its complaint process. However, the department “has not adequately addressed their concerns,” the document states.
Telephone messages left for Muwakkil were not returned Wednesday.
The attorney for the local NAACP also could not be reached for comment.
Interim Police Chief Jay Murphy expressed surprise at the complaint.
According to Murphy, Muwakkil met with police officials 18 months ago in regards to the department’s complaint process. Officials and Muwakkil went over the NAACP’s concerns and both parties seemed to walk away pleased.
“Mr. Muwakkil appeared satisfied, that was our belief,” he said.
Murphy said complaint forms can be filled out in person, online or taken home and mailed in. Information on filling out a complaint is available in the lobby of police headquarters. The complainant can use their real name or submit an anonymous complaint by writing anonymous or using a fake name.
Citizens are not required to speak to a supervisor before filing a complaint, but supervisors do prefer to speak to citizens to get a better understanding of what reportedly occurred. Murphy said in some instances citizens wait for some time because they ask for a specific supervisor who is not available.
As for intimidation by highlighting perjury, the CCPD once read citizens a statement about the danger of filing a false statement, but the practice is no longer in place. Murphy explained that before officials met with Muwakkil, the policy was stopped because other agencies had come under fire for it.
CCPD officials are scheduled to meet with Muwakkil on Thursday.
For the federal investigation, the CCPD must provide copies of its policies and procedures for handling citizen complaints along with all related material. It must provide information and copies of complaints received by the CCPD in regards to its complaint process and the department’s actions in response.
The agency also must provide a description of any sensitivity or cultural diversity awareness training provided to employees at the police department.
The Department of Justice would not discuss specifics Wednesday.
“Our investigation is open and ongoing,” Xochitl Hinojosa, a public affairs specialist, said.
In 2009, the CCPD documented 48 inquiries or minor complaints initiated by an external source, such as a resident. They involved rudeness or demeanor, improper conduct, misuse of official position, failure to perform duties, lost property or theft, and excessive force.
Of the 48 total, 19 inquiries were unfounded, two were exonerated, 13 were not sustained, one is pending and in five cases, the complaint was withdrawn. In seven cases, the complaint was sustained. Two had no basis for complaint.
Formal investigations consist of allegations of criminal or gross misconduct, dereliction of duty, excessive force, civil rights violation, and violation of state or federal law. In 2009, the CCPD recorded nine formal investigations.
Out of the nine, three were external complaints while six were internal. Out of the nine investigations, the total number of employees involved was nine. Six were sustained, one was unfounded, one was exonerated and one pending.
The sustained investigations involved performance of duties, truthfulness, responsible for performance of duties, demeanor, computer protocol and failure to appear in court.