V.I. Police to miss another consent decree deadline
Published: September 25, 2013
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ST. CROIX - The territory and the U.S. Justice Department are negotiating changes to a federal consent decree, after the V.I. Police Department acknowledged it will fail to meet an already-extended deadline for compliance.
The consent decree is aimed at correcting problems within the Police Department that prompted federal civil rights lawyers to file a lawsuit in 2008 contending that the department was violating residents' civil rights by using excessive force. The suit contended the Police Department 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 the lawsuit by laying out a myriad provisions that the territory agreed to, aimed at fixing those problems, along with deadlines to meet each provision.
However, the territory has since failed to meet most of the deadlines in the case, some of them more than once.
Ultimately, in March 2012, the territory missed a final deadline for reaching substantial compliance with all the consent decree's provisions.
An agreement later was worked out to push back the final deadline until Oct. 31, 2013, and an action plan with intermediate steps and deadlines to help the Police Department reach compliance was adopted as a court order in the case.
However, with the revised Oct. 31 final deadline now looming large, the territory has approached the U.S. Justice Department about extending the deadline again, according to a joint motion filed by the parties in the case.
The motion, which asks a federal judge to delay a scheduled hearing, notes that the territory acknowledged to the U.S. Justice Department in August that it would be unable to meet the Oct. 31 deadline, and asked for an extension. It does not say how long the extension requested was, but notes that the parties are now negotiating.
"The parties are now working collaboratively, with input from the independent monitors, to negotiate modifications to the Consent Decree and Action plan," the motion states. "These changes are aimed at strengthening both documents and providing reasonable extensions for unmet compliance deadlines, with the goal of setting realistic and achievable compliance deadlines."
To be released from the consent decree, the Police Department must reach full compliance with each and every one of its provisions, then maintain that compliance for two years.
Independent monitors assessing Police Department compliance efforts have noted significant progress by police toward meeting the mandates, although they likewise point out that much work remains to be done.
Complying with each substantive provision in the consent decree is a complex process that involves developing policy; training all officers on the policy; implementing it; reaching a point where most officers consistently apply the policy; self-monitoring for compliance; and consistently correcting or disciplining those who do not comply with the policy.
The Independent Monitors' most recent report, released in August and covering the first quarter of the year, found that police had finally achieved full compliance with one of the consent decree's substantive provisions - the first one since a judge signed off on the consent decree in March 2009.
Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard Sr. did not respond on Tuesday to a Daily News message seeking comment on the move to again extend the deadlines in the consent decree case. A Daily News message on Tuesday to a spokesperson for the U.S. Justice Department on the move also was not returned.
The motion, which was filed in the case earlier this month, does shed some light on what the parties are negotiating toward.
According to the motion, if the negotiation is successful, the parties expect to file a joint proposal next month that would be subject to court approval.
If they do not reach agreement, the territory and the U.S. Justice Department plan to file separate proposals with the court about suggested next steps, in light of the rapidly-approaching Oct. 31 deadline, which police will not meet.
The motion asked the judge to stay a hearing he had scheduled on a request the territory made in June to push back some of the intermediate deadlines in the action plan, noting that either scenario - the joint proposal or separate proposals - would address unmet consent decree and action plan deadlines.
The court rescheduled the evidentiary hearing so that it can be done once the proposal or proposals are filed in the case.
- Contact reporter Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email email@example.com.