EL PASO, Texas — Protests against systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd Jr. continue to rage across the country and El Paso is no exception.
This week, the Borderland has seen dueling protests while Black Lives Matter advocates and pro-law enforcement demonstrators clash over ongoing racism and police use of excessive force against people of color.
The FBI’s Civil Rights Division investigates alleged crimes committed by law enforcement like police and officials like judges. Abuses of power by authorities include sexual assault, excessive force, failure to keep from harm, and more are considered civil rights violations. These transgressions occur under the “color of law,” which is the authority given by local, state, and federal agencies to protect the public.
By national standards, El Paso has an admirable police department. El Paso was named the fifth safest large city in the country this week.
According to the FBI, the El Paso Police Department has not been under investigation for any color of law violations.
“While the FBI opens up hundreds of civil rights investigations a year, the FBI El Paso office sees minimal allegations regarding the color of law violations compared to other cities,” Daniel Ramos, Criminal Branch Assistant Special Agent in Charge, tells KTSM.
El Paso is one of the few cities in which its police department has not been found to violate the civil rights of its citizens.
In the last year, the FBI has received five allegations against all law enforcement agencies that operate within the FBI of El Paso’s area of responsibility — including the EPPD — but none of them were able to be substantiated due to a lack of factual basis to be determined.
When conducting a color of law investigation, Special Agent Ramos says the FBI looks for three elements:
- Subject acted under the color of law
- Subject acted willfully
- Subject deprived the victim of a right secured by the U.S. Constitution or other laws
In federal cases, the government must prove that the subject’s actions resulted in bodily injury or death to be considered a felony.
“If no lasting bodily injury occurs, there’s a possibility that a misdemeanor charge could be filed,” said Special Agent Ramos.
The FBI cannot conduct an investigation based on anger and frustration but urges the public to reach out if they believe a violation has occurred. To report a color of law violation, contact the FBI with the following information:
- Identifying information of the victim(s)
- As much identifying information of the subject as available
- Date / time / location of incident
- Names/address/phone numbers of witnesses (if any)
- A complete chronology of events
- Any report/case numbers available with regard to the incident
Special Agent Ramos says the FBI takes the color of law violations extremely seriously and works with law enforcement to cultivate public trust.
The FBI offers civil rights training that educates law enforcement on what constitutes a violation of civil rights and was scheduled to work with the EPPD prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When law enforcement fails to do its most basic duty to protect its citizens, particularly members of a minority community, it not only tarnishes the badge we wear but it erodes the trust that we in law enforcement have worked so hard to build.”
Issues of trust between local and federal law enforcement agencies are raising concerns over the rights of citizens who attend protests.
Some demonstrators have feared being tracked by the government but Special Agent Ramos says the FBI is not tracking protestors.
“We defend the rights of the people to peacefully protest but we will prosecute those who illegally protest and incite violence.”