On December 21, 2012, after a thorough investigation, the United States, represented by the Department of Justice (DOJ), filed suit against the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and its police department pursuant to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. § 14141). The Government alleged that the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRDP) violated the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments by engaging in unlawful patterns and practices. Filed along with the complaint was a joint motion for the Court to approve a comprehensive settlement agreement between the parties and also a motion to stay the proceedings.
Specifically, the Government claimed the PRDP engaged in the following practices: using excessive force during routine police activities; relying on unreasonable force in response to public demonstrations; conducting unlawful searches and seizures; and engaging in discriminatory police practices against those who are or appear to be of Dominican origin. The Government further alleged that those practices were the result of longstanding, widespread failures of the department, including inadequate and ineffective investigation and discipline procedures, supervision, and training, as well as officer violence and corruption.
On December 27, 2012, the Court (Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi) granted the motion to stay the proceedings in order to allow the recently elected government to familiarize itself with the agreement and make modifications. And, on January 18, 2013, the Government filed an amended complaint that removed reference to Puerto Rico as an unincorporated territory of the United States. This was because, under an old line of Supreme Court cases that established what is known as the Incorporation Doctrine, acquired territories were not necessarily protected by the Constitution and were considered not to be a part of the United States: Congress had the power to decide when/whether to incorporate the territory, which would bestow certain Constitutional status upon the territory.
On April 1, 2013, the ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of the proposed settlement agreement, explaining the results of its own investigations in Puerto Rico, endorsing the comprehensive approach of the agreement, and suggesting a few possible improvements. Puerto Rico's Attorney Gregorio Igartua also filed an amicus brief, except he failed to take up the issue of whether Puerto Rico was an incorporated territory. He argued that the Court could not render a decision in the case without declaring Puerto Rico to be an incorporated territory because the United States was imposing upon Puerto Rico the burdens of full obligation to the Constitution while selectively withholding Constitutional rights, such as representation and voting power in Congress and greater ability to claim access to federal funds, such as federal funding for anti-crime policies.
On July 17, 2013, the parties filed a modified settlement agreement along with a joint motion for dismissal. On the same day, the court (Deputy Clerk Carlos Rodriguez) conditionally dismissed the case while retaining jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement. The 101-page agreement provides a comprehensive set of provisions touching on nearly every aspect of the police department ( PN-PR-0001-0007
). It calls for the development of policies on, among other things, the use of force, crowd control and public demonstrations, searches and seizures, and equal protection. It requires better pre-service training and education as well as continued training once recruits become police officers. It contains an array of investigatory, supervisory, and discipline obligations, as well as auditing procedures. To address community concerns, the agreement establishes a commitment to more appropriate community policing and establishes joint boards of police officers and community representatives. In an effort to nondiscriminatory policing it also requires PRPD to establish the information systems and collect all information necessary to accomplish the goals of the agreement. Under the agreement, Puerto Rico is required to hire a Technical Compliance advisor to monitor and report on the departments progress in meeting the goals and requirements of the agreement. The agreement would last at least 10 years, after which time either party could file for termination of the agreement. However, if Puerto Rico filed for termination, it would have the burden of demonstrating that it had fully and effectively complied with the agreement for at least two consecutive years.
On October 30, 2013, upon joint motion of the parties, the court appointed Juan Mattos, Jr. as the Technical Compliance Advisor. The first compliance report was filed with the court on August 1, 2014 and was ordered to be made public on August 8, 2014. The report noted positive developments.
As on November 28, 2014, litigation is ongoing.Kenneth Gray - 07/18/2013
Richard Jolly - 11/29/2014