Robert Faturechi

Georgia Sen. Perdue sold his home to a finance industry official whose organization was lobbying the Senate

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., sold his Washington, D.C., home last year to a brokerage industry official whose organization is under the purview of a committee Perdue sits on.

The deal was made off market, without the home being listed for sale publicly.

Though an appraisal provided to ProPublica by the buyer found that Perdue sold for slightly under market value, four local real estate experts disagreed, telling ProPublica that the almost $1.8 million sale price Perdue garnered seemed high. Their estimates of the premium ranged from a few thousand dollars to as much as about $140,000. A fifth expert said the price was squarely fair market value.

Ultimately, congressional ethics experts said, their concern was that Perdue sold privately and to someone whose organization that he oversaw as a senator.

“Determining fair market value is always a gray area, unless the sales are done in a competitive open market," said Craig Holman with the watchdog group Public Citizen. “Since the purchase and sale of this property by Sen. Perdue was not done on the open market, it raises serious suspicions as to whether the sale was in fact at fair market value."

If the price was above fair market value, Holman said, “this would be a violation of his ethical obligations and an opportunity for those with business pending before Perdue's committee to curry favor."

A Perdue spokesperson said that the senator and his wife sold the townhouse at fair market price, and that the lender appraisal confirmed that.

“None of this had anything to do with the senator's official role," the spokesperson said. “The Perdues did not know any of the individuals, and they used the same realtor during the purchase and sale of the property."

Perdue's office provided a statement from the couple's real estate agent, Justin Paulhamus: “Since inventory was so limited at the time of the sale, we priced it at market value and were fortunate to get an offer."

Perdue's spokesperson said the senator's real estate agent “floated it off market first, and they would have put it on market, but got an offer at their asking price which was fair market value."

Perdue is locked in a runoff campaign against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. Along with fellow Georgia Republican Kelly Loeffler's race against Raphael Warnock, his contest could determine which party controls the Senate and with it, whether President-elect Joe Biden can implement much of his agenda.

Perdue has faced multiple allegations that he has mixed his private financial interests with his official work. The most prolific stock trader in the Senate, he bought and sold shares in companies that the committees he sits on have jurisdiction over. Some of his trades came at fortunate times. Earlier this year, the Justice Department investigated him and other lawmakers for possible insider trading. Perdue denied the allegations. Prosecutors ultimately decided not to bring charges against him.

Perdue's home buyer in October 2019 was Hillary Sale, a board governor for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a privately funded self-regulatory body for the securities industry. The organization falls under the purview of the Senate Banking Committee, which Perdue sits on. Earlier in 2019, FINRA was lobbying on a bill out of the banking committee that would have required the organization to establish a fund to pay investors bilked by brokers.

A FINRA spokesman said the organization has not lobbied Perdue specifically. In a statement, Sale said she learned of the home though her real estate agent and never interacted with Perdue. She provided ProPublica with an appraisal from her lender showing the home was valued at $1.8 million, $11,000 over the amount she paid. Samer Kuraishi, who leads a real estate agency in Washington, said appraisals are done after a price is agreed to, and that they typically are engineered to match the sales price.

Perdue may have saved thousands by not putting his house on the open market.

Kuraishi and other experts said that when doing off-market deals, sellers can negotiate to pay their agents a smaller commission.

“In that scenario, an agent spends less on staging, less on marketing, less on open houses, less on virtual tours," he said. “It's typically an easier sale."

Perdue's spokesperson said the senator paid broker fees, but did not respond to questions about whether the fees were discounted.

Perdue's Capitol Hill home and many of those around it were built in the early 2000s by EYA, a developer that specializes in luxury townhomes that maintain the look and feel of historic buildings but come with amenities typically reserved for more suburban locales. They have individual garages and private courtyards. Perdue's home featured a rentable separate unit, connected to the main house through interior stairs.

At the time of the sale, FINRA was lobbying the Senate, according to its disclosure forms, and earlier that year its lobbyists were specifically focused on a bill that would have required the organization to establish a relief fund to provide investors with arbitration awards that went unpaid by FINRA's brokerage firms and brokers. The bill was authored by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and fell under the jurisdiction of the Senate Banking Committee.

The committee had also held hearings that included harsh assessments of how well FINRA was policing its own. In 2018, an AFL-CIO official charged that FINRA was failing as a regulator because it was not forcing its members to pay the arbitration settlements.

Perdue's office declined to answer questions about where the senator stood on the bill, which did not pass, or whether he took any actions on it.

Ethics experts are generally troubled when politicians enter into transactions with people who have business before them. The legality of this sale hinges on whether the home was purchased at fair market value. If it was Apurchased for more than that, it would be considered a gift. Gifts of significant value to senators are required to be publicly disclosed. Perdue did not disclose any such gifts.

Earlier this year, ProPublica reported that Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., sold his Washington townhouse to a donor and powerful lobbyist who had business before him. Burr's office said the lawmaker notified the Senate Ethics Committee before the sale. Perdue's office declined to say if he took similar steps. The committee does not typically make such guidance public, and it did not respond to questions about whether Perdue sought advice in this case.

In order to avoid the appearance of a conflict, members of Congress who are buying or selling properties should do so on the open market to help ensure the price paid is fair and to avoid deals with people who have business before them, ethics experts say.

The five local real estate agents who reviewed the transaction for ProPublica had somewhat differing opinions about whether Perdue got an inflated price and, if so, how inflated. All cautioned that valuing a property is not an exact science.

One agent, assuming Perdue did not make significant improvements to the property while living there, priced the home at around $1,650,000. That would mean Perdue sold for about 8% over market. His office declined to say whether he had made those kinds of upgrades, but photos, the agent said, suggest he did not.

A second agent said the price also seemed high, but only about 2% over market value. The agent said prominent officials selling homes in private deals will often get a premium. “Buyers don't haggle at that point. If it's a senator, you're not going to go back and say, 'Actually, I'll give you 1.7.' They either pay the price or don't buy it."

A third agent said it seemed slightly above market. A fourth said the expected range for that property at the time would have been between $1.75 million and $1.785 million, a shade under Perdue's $1.789 million sale price. A fifth agent said the price Perdue got was squarely at fair market value. All of the agents asked that their names not be used so as not to affect their ability to continue buying and selling homes in the neighborhood.

The agents said that the price Perdue purchased the home for in 2015, $1.6 million, was about market rate at the time. That sale was made on the open market.

In that case, Perdue bought from Bill Cheney, the outgoing president of the trade group lobbying for credit unions; Cheney is currently president of a California-based credit union. Perdue has received donations from the trade group and, as a senator, has helped loosen regulations on credit unions.

One of the real estate agents who spoke with ProPublica noted the short time the home spent on the market before Perdue bought it. The home was put on the market on a Wednesday and Perdue agreed to a deal to buy it that Friday before there could be a weekend open house. The agent said it was atypical for a seller to commit to Perdue without holding an open house to find backup options.

Cheney and his wife told ProPublica they had an open house for brokers only before the home was put on the market. Perdue got no special treatment, they said, and they had no direct contact with him.

Perdue's spokesperson said the senator bought the townhouse above asking price.

“Absolutely nothing about the purchase or sale of the property had anything to do with the senator's official role, since they did not know the buyers or sellers, there could be no conflict of interest whatsoever," the spokesperson said.

Filed under:

The Justice Department unleashes prosecutors to potentially intervene in the election

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

The Department of Justice has weakened its long-standing prohibition against interfering in elections, according to two department officials.

Avoiding election interference is the overarching principle of DOJ policy on voting-related crimes. In place since at least 1980, the policy generally bars prosecutors not only from making any announcement about ongoing investigations close to an election but also from taking public steps — such as an arrest or a raid — before a vote is finalized because the publicity could tip the balance of a race.

But according to an email sent Friday by an official in the Public Integrity Section in Washington, now if a U.S. attorney's office suspects election fraud that involves postal workers or military employees, federal investigators will be allowed to take public investigative steps before the polls close, even if those actions risk affecting the outcome of the election.

The email announced “an exception to the general non-interference with elections policy." The new exemption, the email stated, applied to instances in which “the integrity of any component of the federal government is implicated by election offenses within the scope of the policy including but not limited to misconduct by federal officials or employees administering an aspect of the voting process through the United States Postal Service, the Department of Defense or any other federal department or agency."

Specifically citing postal workers and military employees is noteworthy, former DOJ officials said. But the exception is written so broadly that it could cover other types of investigations as well, they said.

Both groups have been falsely singled out, in different ways, by President Donald Trump and his campaign for being involved in voter fraud. Trump has repeatedly attempted to delegitimize ballots sent through the postal service, just as the country experiences increased voting by mail spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. He has also raised the specter that the ballots of military members, among whom he enjoys broad support, might be suppressed.

The DOJ and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Experts who reviewed the revision said they were concerned it could be exploited to help the DOJ bolster Trump's campaign.

“It's unusual that they're carving out this exception," said Vanita Gupta, the former head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama. “It may be creating a predicate for the Justice Department to make inflated announcements about mail-in vote fraud and the like in the run-up to the election."

In a break from long-standing practice last month, a U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania publicly announced that the DOJ was investigating whether local elections officials illegally discarded nine mail-in military ballots. Attorney General William Barr personally briefed Trump on the case before it was publicly announced, The Washington Post reported. Trump later cited it as an example to support his claims of widespread mail-in voter fraud, a false assertion Barr has has helped amplify. It's not clear where the federal probe stands, but Pennsylvania's top elections official said early indications point to an error, not fraud.

The new policy carveout, Gupta said, could be designed to both justify the widely criticized Pennsylvania announcement and open the door for more such moves in the coming weeks.

Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ's civil rights division, also expressed concern that the department could be encouraging prosecutors to make more public announcements about incomplete investigations, as they did in the Pennsylvania case.

“It alarms me that the DOJ would want to authorize more of the same in and around the election," he said. “It's incredibly painful for me to say, but given what we've seen recently, Americans shouldn't trust DOJ announcements right now."

The Friday email was sent to a group of dozens of prosecutors around the country known as district election officers. They monitor election procedures and take complaints on Election Day from the public about alleged crimes and serve as the federal points of contact for local election officials.

For decades, the work of federal prosecutors has been guided by a strict policy of non-interference in elections.

A 281-page document titled “Federal Prosecution of Election Offenses" is the handbook for district election officers. The latest edition, from 2017, warns against launching public investigations, without approval granted for extraordinary cases, into alleged fraud before an election is over.

Such a step, the handbook says, “runs the obvious risk of chilling legitimate voting and campaign activities. It also runs the significant risk of interjecting the investigation itself as an issue, both in the campaign and in the adjudication of any ensuing election contest."

One current DOJ official told ProPublica that prosecutors have historically been warned not to allow themselves to be dragged into candidate disputes. “That's what they drill into us: the policy of non-interference and never, ever, ever announce an investigation," the official said.

The Justice Department may have violated Attorney General Barr’s own policy memo

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

When the Justice Department recently publicized an ongoing investigation into potentially improperly discarded Trump ballots, critics accused it of violating long-standing agency policy against interfering in an election.

But the unusual decision to publicly detail the Pennsylvania case may also have run afoul of guidelines that Attorney General William Barr himself issued to federal prosecutors this year, according to a memo obtained by ProPublica.

In May, Barr wrote a directive to all Justice Department employees imploring them to be “particularly sensitive to safeguarding the Department's reputation for fairness, neutrality, and non-partisanship" when it comes to election-related crimes.

“Partisan politics," he wrote, “must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of public statements (attributed or not), investigative steps, criminal charges, or any other action in any matter or case for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party."

Nevertheless, last month Barr's Justice Department issued a press release announcing an investigation into whether local elections officials illegally discarded nine mail-in military ballots in Pennsylvania. The announcement of an open investigation was highly unusual. Even more abnormal was that the press release specified that at least seven of those ballots were for President Donald Trump.

While the motivation of the Pennsylvania press release is unclear, Barr had personally briefed Trump on the matter before the announcement, The Washington Post subsequently reported, citing an anonymous source. The president raised it in a media interview and then DOJ's Pennsylvania office announced the investigation.

Then, the Trump campaign quickly jumped on the Pennsylvania case to bolster those claims.

“BREAKING: FBI finds military mail-in ballots discarded in Pennsylvania. 100% of them were cast for President Trump. Democrats are trying to steal the election," a campaign official tweeted.

Justin Levitt, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ's civil rights division, said the Pennsylvania press release was “flatly inconsistent" with Barr's memo “and shamefully so."

“There's absolutely no legitimate law enforcement reason I know of to mention who the ballots were cast for: They were either dealt with properly or not properly," he said. “And if there's no good reason, it leaves only the most likely bad reason: that the identity of the candidate was revealed for partisan political purposes."

Some experts did not agree . Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who is now a professor at Duke Law School, said Barr could argue that “any public announcement about a ballot investigation complies with [the memo] because the language is so broad."

Barr, he said, could say the “purpose" of the Pennsylvania announcement was not to affect the outcome of the election or support a particular candidate, but some other non-prohibited motivation like “protecting the vote."

The Barr memo closelymirrored election-year guidance that previous attorneys general sent out under both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. Barr himself said at his Senate confirmation hearings last year that the election policies were in place because the incumbent party has “their hands on the levers of the law enforcement apparatus of the country, and you do not want it used against the opposing political party."

Asked whether the Pennsylvania announcement ran afoul of the agency's election policies, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec responded: “No." She declined to elaborate.

The U.S. attorney overseeing the case is David Freed, a former Republican nominee for Pennsylvania state attorney general who was nominated for his current role by Trump in 2017. In a publicly released letter, Freed said he was detailing initial findings despite an ongoing investigation “based on the limited amount of time before the general election and the vital public importance of these issues."

A second memo obtained by ProPublica, issued in August by Corey Amundson, chief of the DOJ's Public Integrity Section, was even more explicit.

In it, Amundson reiterated the Justice Department's long-standing policy in election fraud cases: “Overt criminal investigative measures should not ordinarily be taken in matters involving alleged fraud in the manner in which votes were cast or counted until the election in question has been concluded."

The memo was addressed to the Attorney General Advisory Committee, a group of U.S. attorneys that advise the attorney general.

The policy Amundson cites appears to make an exception for extraordinary cases. But it seems unlikely that would apply to the case in Pennsylvania. That involved only nine ballots, which appear to have been discarded by a sole contract employee. The motivation may have been an innocuous attempt to follow Pennsylvania rules barring ballots sent back without the proper envelope.

Current and former Justice Department officials told ProPublica that, even without the memos from top agency officials including Barr, the Pennsylvania press release violated long-standing department policy. They explained that prosecutors not only should not announce that they are investigating, but that they should be slow even to start an election-sensitive investigation during the campaign. Such an investigation is so sensitive, an opposing candidate could use it to smear his or her opponent.

“That's what they drill into us: the policy of non-interference and never, ever, ever announcing an investigation," one official said. “That's why the thing in Pennsylvania is bonkers, completely bonkers."

A spokeswoman for Freed declined to comment.

Barr has amplified Trump's attempt to discredit mail-in voting before, claiming falsely that there is widespread fraud.

The Obama DOJ had a plan to hold police accountable for abuses. Trump's DOJ just undermined it

The Obama Justice Department Had a Plan to Hold Police Accountable for Abuses. The Trump DOJ Has Undermined It.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

It was caught on tape. A Seattle police officer lunged into the backseat of a patrol car. The Black woman detained inside had been combative, but she already had her hands cuffed behind her back. Still the cop punched her in the face, breaking an orbital bone.

The Seattle Police Department moved to fire the officer for excessive force, but in November 2018, the cop's union lawyer was able to convince an arbitrator to overturn the termination.

The implications of the incident went beyond the officer. The entire Seattle Police Department was under an agreement reached with the Obama administration Department of Justice because its officers had a pattern of abuse similar to the incident in the patrol car. That agreement, known as a consent decree, forced the department under tight federal oversight until it reformed itself. The Seattle police had already made a string of changes, including ending unconstitutional stop-and-frisk and improving training.

But the inability to easily fire the officer from the patrol car incident called the city's progress into question. If the department couldn't even get rid of officers it thought should be fired, then its disciplinary system potentially violated the settlement agreement, the judge assigned to oversee the consent decree said. The court-appointed independent monitor for the consent decree agreed.

But instead, the Justice Department of President Donald Trump took an unusual stance in court: It argued that the city's disciplinary system was fine the way it was.

District Judge James Robart was shocked. In a filing, he accused the federal government of reversing its position on “the old accountability system's inadequacy" and doing so “for the sake of political expediency."

In Seattle and jurisdictions across the country, the Trump administration's Department of Justice has pulled back on policing the police. It has not entered into a single new consent decree with any law enforcement agency suspected of systemic abuses of constitutional rights. It has only announced the completion of one investigation into such abuses.

But the pullback goes deeper. The Justice Department has also been undermining the existing agreements between the federal government and abusive police forces across the country, according to interviews with court-appointed monitors and former Justice Department officials.

The Obama Department of Justice entered into 15 consent decrees with law enforcement agencies, up from three under the Bush Justice Department. The settlement agreements, which come after a lawsuit by the federal government alleging unconstitutional policing, compel police agencies to fix themselves while under the close watch of Justice Department attorneys and an outside independent court monitor.

The Department of Justice was still overseeing all of these agreements when Trump entered the Oval Office in 2017. Supporters of the increased oversight worried that the Trump Justice Department would try to pull out of them entirely. It did so in Chicago just before an agreement was to be finalized and tried to in Baltimore. But instead of pulling out completely of those already well underway, it has eased up on enforcing them, managing to avoid negative attention and the ire of uncooperative judges, according to court-appointed monitors and former Justice Department lawyers.

The Justice Department has taken a similar approach in places like Cleveland, Los Angeles County and Newark, New Jersey, as it did in Seattle, with attorneys for the federal government failing to push for reforms, refusing to publicly back up frustrated monitors and not pressing local police forces to meet the requirements they agreed to.

The Justice Department declined to comment for this story.

As excessive force and killings by police have led to one of the biggest social justice movements the country has ever seen, the Trump administration has embraced police departments and attacked protesters as lawless and violent. Trump has taken on the “law and order" mantle as a centerpiece of his campaign. And top Trump officials, including then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have questioned whether the federal government should play an active role in reforming bad law enforcement agencies.

“If the city knows you're not going to litigate because the head of the Justice Department is saying they don't believe in consent decrees, then they know you're not going to get the authority and they call your bluff," said Sharon Brett, a former DOJ attorney who worked on investigations and consent decree enforcement during the Obama and Trump administrations.

People involved in these cases said career attorneys at the Justice Department's civil rights division are acting cautiously, seeking not to draw the attention and ire of the politically appointed bosses in Washington. The chill has led to an exodus of attorneys from the unit that handles consent decree enforcement since the start of the Trump administration. (The DOJ would not share personnel numbers with ProPublica.)

Court-appointed monitors tasked with examining the progress being made by local police forces have noticed the shift.

“You would never know they're party to the consent decree," one monitor said, asking for anonymity to avoid angering the Justice Department. “I've never seen DOJ lawyers be so passive."

Consent decrees are a relatively recent tool for reforming troubled police departments.

They were made possible by the Clinton administration's 1994 crime bill, the same piece of legislation that has become radioactive among criminal reform advocates for contributing to over-incarceration. A provision of the law empowered the Justice Department to sue cities and counties for unconstitutional practices by their cops and prosecutors.

The process begins with civil rights attorneys from the Justice Department opening what's known as a “pattern or practice" investigation into a police department or other law enforcement agency. They examine whether the rights of residents are being violated — either through excessive force, racially biased stops, unjustified arrests or other misconduct. On occasion, the Justice Department will sue those local jurisdictions or, in the most serious cases, enter into consent decrees.

Those agreements require the local jurisdictions to work with the Justice Department for years to complete a list of reforms and to prove to a judge those reforms are working. The court-appointed monitors, typically a police practices expert or former law enforcement official, examine how well the police force is implementing the changes in a series of public reports. If the local agency refuses to take required steps, or is too slow, it can be sanctioned by the judge on the case. The sanctions can include fines or even jail time for an obstructive police chief or other city official.

The process can be invasive and burdensome for local jurisdictions, particularly cash-strapped ones. After the shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teen whose death launched nationwide protests, Ferguson, Missouri, entered into a consent decree with the Obama administration Justice Department in 2016. The community has struggled to hire experts in data analysis and other fields that the agreement demands.

But experts believe the process is one of the most effective for righting wayward police forces.

“It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You get to fix things institutionally," said Peter Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general and the current court-appointed monitor for the consent decree in Newark. “Once if you fix it organically, that culture persists."

One consent decree widely considered a success is the 2001 agreement reached with the Los Angeles Police Department. The complaints of racist and brutal policing went back decades, prompting riots, like after the 1991 Rodney King beating, and major scandals, including when officers in the Rampart anti-gang division were discovered to be planting evidence and carrying out unprovoked shootings.

The federal oversight in Los Angeles lasted what local officials complained was an interminable 12 years, but in the end, even longtime LAPD veterans praised its outcome. In 2013, Chief Charlie Beck credited the consent decree with making “this a department that I am proud to hand over to my children." A Harvard study on the reforms found that the police reduced incidents of serious force and that public satisfaction with the force rose to 83%.

From the beginning, the Trump administration took a hostile stance on these types of reform efforts. Trump's first attorney general, Sessions, set the tone when he said the investigations “undermine the respect for police officers and create an impression that the entire department is not doing their work consistent with fidelity to law and fairness." He pulled out of a consent decree effort in Chicago, leaving it to the state attorney general to pick up, and tried to pull out of an agreement in Baltimore, which a federal judge blocked. Just before he resigned in 2018, Sessions issued a memo requiring high-level approval for any new consent decrees and raising the standard that staff attorneys needed to meet before opening a new investigation.

In Los Angeles County, the Justice Department entered into a settlement agreement with the Sheriff's Department in 2015 after finding that cops assigned to the desert towns on the county's northern outskirts were discriminating against Black and Latino residents.

According to the complaint the Justice Department filed in court, rank-and-file deputies were stopping and searching Black residents at higher rates, even though they were found to have contraband half as often as white residents. Even people who posed no obvious danger — including domestic violence victims and minor traffic offenders — were routinely being detained in the back of patrol cars. The agency's deputies were assisting affordable housing inspectors in searches that intimidated Black residents and forced them from their homes.

Members of the department didn't do much to hide their bias. During a tour with federal investigators, a sheriff's supervisor remarked that all newly arrived Black residents in the area were current or former gang members. A sheriff's captain suggested that affordable housing residents were offering shelter to gang member relatives “from South Central" — a neighborhood on the other end of the county with a large percentage of Black residents..

But five years into the settlement agreement, the agency has not overhauled its data collection system to track its interactions with the public to see if people of color are still being disproportionately stopped or harassed, one of the key reforms the agency agreed to with the Justice Department.

“It is fundamental," said Joseph Brann, the co-chair of the team in charge of monitoring the agreement.

Both chairs, Brann and Angela Wolf, said the Sheriff's Department resisted an expensive fix. The settlement agreement only applied to part of the sheriff's jurisdiction, but an overhaul would require the sheriff to change his data collection agencywide.

In 2018, they pressured sheriff's officials to act. Their response was, “'We're gonna make some phone calls, we're gonna see,'" Wolf told ProPublica.

The monitors took that as sheriff's officials suggesting they would appeal to Justice Department supervisors to try to get around the requirement.

“It wasn't quite a threat," Wolf said. “But it was an 'uh huh, we'll see if you're right about that.'"

The staff-level attorneys are committed to enforcing the deal, but “we get the sense that higher up, supervisors are sometimes working in opposition to the mission," Wolf said. “We do know there were times when sheriff's officials made a phone call to higher-ups at DOJ," she said, adding, “We do know that level of influence was being offered."

And the department has still not revamped its system. The Sheriff's Department did not respond to questions from ProPublica.

The monitors' concerns go beyond the data issue. For a year and a half during the settlement agreement, sheriff's officials ignored requests to make agreed-upon changes to their use-of-force policy. Only recently did the office begin to engage again with the monitor. But to this day there is still not an approved new policy.

Cleveland entered into a consent decree in 2015 after the Justice Department found its officers were using excessive force on residents, shooting at people who didn't pose an immediate threat and using guns carelessly, including hitting people on the head with them. Cleveland cops were also using Tasers and pepper spray on people who were already handcuffed, at times not based on any threat they posed in the moment, but to punish them for earlier remarks. Officers who investigated their colleagues' shootings admitted their goal was to cast accused officers in “the most positive light possible."

In the consent decree with the Justice Department, Cleveland agreed that a judge would have the final say on a body cam policy. The city, with support from the police union, proposed that officers would not need to wear body cams if they were moonlighting.

When police officers worked as security at a Cavaliers game, for example, getting paid by a private entity, they weren't required to wear cameras, even though they would be armed, wearing their uniforms and functionally acting as police officers. The police union was determined not to bend on this. When the city tried a voluntary pilot program to encourage moonlighting officers to wear cameras, the union distributed a letter instructing its members that it “is the OFFICIAL UNION POLICY to refrain from 'VOLUNTEERING' for anything with regard to work."

The monitor objected to the moonlighting carve out.

“A system where one set of rules applies to officers working a city shift while another set of rules applies to officers working for a private employer fosters confusion, not confidence, among the community," Matthew Barge, the monitor in Cleveland, argued in court.

The judge assigned to the case also signaled he agreed: “When you're a police officer and you're policing, whether it's a bar or restaurant or whatever, people see you as a police officer." He expressed concern that officers were “not encouraged but discouraged to volunteer."

But at a June 2017 hearing, the Justice Department did not strongly support the monitor. The attorney told the judge that DOJ was “hopeful" that “the officers will see that using cameras on secondary employment is going to be beneficial for them and not burdensome."

The Justice Department, she added, “looks forward to hearing about the progress of the pilot program as the rest of the months go on." At that point, however, the pilot program had zero volunteers and was functionally dead.

Today, moonlighting Cleveland cops go about their duties without body cams.

Justice Department lawyers in Newark have taken a similar approach.

The city entered into a consent decree with the federal government in 2016. The Justice Department had alleged that a whopping 75% of the pedestrian stops Newark police made did not have a legitimate basis. Even though just about half the city's residents are Black, they made up about 80% of stops and arrests.

Last year, as the consent decree was ongoing, a Newark cop shot repeatedly at a moving car, even as his partner urged him to “Relax! Relax bro!" He killed the driver, a Black man, and seriously injured the passenger. The officer had fired three separate times during a short pursuit, while the suspect's car was in motion, a discouraged practice because of the danger it puts innocent bystanders in. The shooting was considered particularly reckless because the suspect's windows were heavily tinted.

The monitor on the case repeatedly asked for video footage of the shooting in order to assess whether the department's use-of-force policy needed revisions. He was repeatedly denied.

“The City and (Newark Police Department's) response in refusing to produce the requested information violated the letter and spirit of Consent Decree," the monitor wrote in one report. He only received the footage later, after it was aired on the local news.

The monitor could have used help from the Justice Department. But federal attorneys never spoke up.

“Not a word out of DOJ," said someone involved in the case. “No email, no phone call, nothing."

The richest Republican donor in South Dakota was under investigation for child pornography: report

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Keep reading... Show less

This Treasury official is running the government bailout. His family’s investment firm is a major beneficiary

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Keep reading... Show less

Richard Burr steps down as Senate intel chairman amid FBI probe

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Keep reading... Show less

GOP Sen. Burr dumped stock on the same day as his brother-in-law — then the market crashed

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Keep reading... Show less

GOP senator currently under investigation for stock trading isn't just a friend to the health care industry. He’s also a stockholder

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Keep reading... Show less

GOP Sen. Burr sold his home to a powerful lobbyist — raising ethical and legal red flags

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES