Department of Justice, VIPD produce plan to comply with consent decree
Published: September 7, 2012
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ST. CROIX - The U.S. Department of Justice and the territory have worked out a plan aimed at helping the V.I. Police Department reach compliance with a federal consent decree by the end of October 2013.
In July, U.S. District Judge Curtis Gomez said he would amend the consent decree the Police Department has been operating under since 2009 to give the territory - which had missed every deadline in the document - more time to comply.
Gomez then ordered the territory and the U.S. Department of Justice to work together to develop a timeline and action plan for the Police Department to reach compliance that contains milestones, steps to get to those milestones and deadlines.
The 56-page action plan that the parties filed jointly in the case last week is the result of that work.
"The plan outlines the steps defendants will take to comply with the consent decree, and provides timelines and assigns responsibilities for these steps," the joint filing states.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the territory have asked that Gomez enter the action plan as an order.
Although the parties had discussed June 30, 2013, as a potential amended deadline for the Police Department to reach compliance with the consent decree, they later agreed that an Oct. 31, 2013 deadline "is more realistic and achievable," the document states.
Once the Police Department reaches substantial compliance with the mandates of the consent decree, it will have to maintain that compliance for two years to be released from the consent decree.
The consent decree came about after the U.S. Justice Department conducted a lengthy investigation into the V.I. Police Department's use of force.
The federal investigation ended with the U.S. Justice Department filing a lawsuit contending that the V.I. Police Department was violating residents' civil rights by engaging in a pattern or practice of using excessive force. The suit also claimed the Police Department was tolerating that conduct by failing to adequately train, supervise, investigate and discipline its officers and by failing to establish consistent policies, procedures and practices to appropriately guide and monitor their actions.
The consent decree settled that lawsuit by forcing the territory to remedy the situation through a myriad mandates contained in its pages, with specific deadlines for each mandate.
The territory agreed - and was legally bound - to meet those mandates.
So far, it has not.
Testimony in a hearing earlier this summer did indicate, however, that the Police Department is making significant progress in its effort to meet the mandates.
The action plan settles one issue between the parties, but another remains before the court.
Both sides have indicated that once the territory reaches compliance, they want the territory to maintain that compliance for at least two years before the consent decree terminates.
However, federal lawyers have asked the judge to eliminate a termination date on the consent decree altogether and leave termination to the judge's discretion, or alternatively, to set a termination date in 2017.
The territory wants the termination date for the consent decree to be extended but not eliminated.
In previous filings, the territory has asked for the consent decree termination date to be set by the court as exactly two years after the amended date for reaching substantial compliance - a termination date that would fall in 2015 if the action plan is entered as a court order.
"Nothing inspires action more than a deadline. The purpose of a consent decree is to ensure that VIPD comes into substantial compliance with the court's oversight for a specific period of time," V.I. Assistant Attorney General Carol Thomas-Jacobs wrote in an opposition to the U.S. motion about the termination date. "Certainly, the court does not want this case to remain indefinitely on its docket."
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