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Arizona Lawmakers To Phoenix: Don’t Sign Consent Decree With U.S. Justice Dept.

A group of Arizona House Republicans, citing the Arizona Constitution, is urging the Phoenix City Council to reject a consent decree in the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into the Police Department.

Arizona House of Representatives Speaker Ben Toma, R.-Peoria, and 17 other lawmakers sent a letter to Mayor Kate Gallego and the council saying Phoenix “must reject the DOJ’s coercive consent decree” and that agreeing to one “implicates constitutional considerations.”

They pointed to a section of the Arizona Constitution that allows the state to prohibit “using any personnel or financial resources to enforce, administer or cooperate” with a federal action or program.

However, to enact the bans, the Arizona Constitution’s Declaration of Rights says the state would need to pass a ballot measure, a bill or “any other available legal remedy.”

The letter does not say which, or whether, they intend to pursue any such action.

Rep. Alexander Kolodin, R-Scottsdale, said it was too early in the process to get into specifics but the Legislature had a reputation for being “very aggressive” at protecting public safety.

“We’re going to carefully consider which of these avenues we need to go down if it comes to that,” Kolodin said. “And we hope it doesn’t.”

Legal experts said the legislators’ legal theories were wrong. Paul Bender, a professor of U.S. and Arizona constitutional law at Arizona State University, said the state Constitution has no authority to interfere with a consent decree that would be enforced by a federal court.

“The Legislature is free to say (the city can’t agree to a consent decree), but they’re not free to do anything about it,” Bender said.

ASU law professor Michael Selmi said the same.

“The constitutional language does not have any application to the DOJ consent decree,” Selmi said. “The reality is, if (the city) rejects a consent decree, it would be litigated. And if DOJ prevails, the court would order some relief.”

Kolodin said the state wouldn’t prevent the city and state from entering a consent decree but rather would bar funding and personnel needed for it, which he believes the state Constitution allows.

Toma did not immediately respond to request for comment. Rep. David Marshall, R-Snowflake, who sent the letter, also did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Andrew Wilder, communications director for Arizona House Republicans, also did not immediately respond to request for comment.

What is the DOJ investigation about?

The Justice Department launched an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department in August 2021. It promised to look into claims of excessive use of force by Phoenix officers, retaliation against protesters, discriminatory policing practices and the department’s response to people with disabilities or who were experiencing homelessness.

The inquiry came after criticism from the community about the department’s use of force and investigations by The Arizona Republic and other media into Phoenix’s high rate of police shootings and disproportionate use of violence against people of color.

The wide-ranging two-year probe has involved more than 100 interviews and 80,000 documents. It cost the city $5.5 million as of June. The council was scheduled to vote Wednesday on spending another $700,000 related to legal services and software for the investigation.

The mayor and council have said they would not sign any agreement with the feds until they see the Justice Department’s findings.

If the council were to reject a consent decree, it would make Phoenix the largest city in the nation to resist Justice Department involvement in police reforms. It could set up a heavy-hitting, potentially costly and lengthy legal battle as it has in seven other locales, two of them in Arizona.

Source: Azcentral