FORT MYERS, Fla. City manager Saaed Kazemi sent a letter to the Department of Justice on Monday seeking a civil rights investigation into the Fort Myers Police Department.
Kazemi informed City Council of the request during today’s meeting. It comes weeks after the release of an audit conducted by a private firm that excoriated the police department for ineffective leadership, a lack of integrity and other issues.
City Councilwoman Terolyn Watson has repeatedly pushed for the city to request an investigation from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division since the audit came out.
“If they come in and they set some patterns and practices we need to do, I think it will be beneficial,” Watson said. “I think our city can start to move forward.”
City Council commissioned the $150,000 audit, completed by Freeh Group International Solutions LLC, in 2016, after the Justice Department offered to do a similar study for free. The Justice Department was involved with the Freeh Group audit, Kazemi said, but the Civil Rights Division wasn’t.
Watson, who represents Ward 3, cited “deep-rooted problems” within the department when proposing a failed motion to have the city ask for a civil rights investigation during a March 6 council meeting.
A similar motion passed Monday, but Kazemi drew criticism from Ward 5 Councilman Forrest Banks, who questioned his decision to make the request without council approval.
Police Chief Derrick Diggs also recently asked for a U.S. Attorney’s probe into alleged misconduct within the department that he took over this past August. The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have yet to respond to the requests.
Watson is also in favor of having the U.S. Attorney investigate, and she rejects the notion that having the Justice Department also look into the FMPD would be overkill.
“I think that’s a little different from the U.S. attorneys coming in and investigating,” she said. “They both do different types of investigations.”
Robert O’Neill, who co-conducted the audit for the Freeh Group, attended Monday’s City Council meeting and lent his support to the idea of the Justice Department probe.
“I think anytime you can get outside help, it’s beneficial,” he said.
He also expressed surprise that the city made the audit’s findings known.
“I’ve done other reports on police departments, but they’ve never been released publicly,” O’Neill said. “This is one of the rarer times that the city’s opened up and shown the report to the public knowing full well it was going to be a critical report.”