WASHINGTON ― The acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration has joined law enforcement leaders in condemning President Donald Trump’s endorsement of police brutality in a speech to police officers last week.
Chuck Rosenberg, the DEA’s acting chief, sent an email to his entire workforce on Saturday expressing concern that Trump, his boss, had “condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement.”
“In writing to you, I seek to advance no political, partisan, or personal agenda. Nor do I believe that a Special Agent or Task Force Officer of the DEA would mistreat a defendant. I know that you would not,” Rosenberg wrote.
“So, why do I write? I write to offer a strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we, as law enforcement professionals, adhere,” he continued. “I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong. That’s what law enforcement officers do. That’s what you do. We fix stuff. At least, we try.”
Rosenberg’s email went on to emphasize what he called the “core values” of the DEA, and the importance of respecting everyone the agency encounters, including victims, witnesses, subjects, and defendants.
“We must earn and keep the public trust and continue to hold ourselves to the very highest standards,” he wrote. “Ours is an honorable profession and, so, we will always act honorably.”
The email was first obtained by The Wall Street Journal and separately obtained by HuffPost.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed this week that the president of the United States was just joking with officers about slamming suspects’ heads on car doors, an act of violence that constitutes a federal crime.
Rosenberg, a close associate of former FBI Director James Comey, was made acting head of the DEA following the resignation of former DEA chief Michele Leonhart in 2015. He has stayed on in the position during the Trump administration.
DEA spokesman Rusty Payne on Tuesday said that Rosenberg’s email “was a reiteration of our core values at DEA.” He did not respond when asked whether the DEA had gotten any pushback from the White House about the email.
Writing at the blog Lawfare on Tuesday, Benjamin Wittes said that Rosenberg’s message demonstrates “what it looks like when a law enforcement agency head is willing to speak seriously in response to Trump’s abusive treatment of law enforcement and abusive vision of it.”
“It’s no surprise that a law enforcement officer of Rosenberg’s stature has rebuked Trump for his comments and risked his wrath in doing so,” Wittes went on. Rather, he said, the surprise is that neither Attorney General Jeff Sessions nor Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “has had the guts” to say something similar.
Rosenberg’s message to the agency notwithstanding, the DEA has its own history of troubling incidents of alleged brutality.
In 2003, the agency drew nationwide outrage after an agent fatally shot a 14-year-old girl in Texas during a drug investigation. The agent did not face charges in that shooting.
In 2012, a college student suspected of dealing drugs was left unattended and handcuffed in a DEA cell for five days, during which he was forced to drink his own urine to survive. An inspector general’s report later found that DEA officials at the facility had heard the suspect in his cell, but had ignored him because they assumed he was someone else’s responsibility.
Rosenberg’s email is reprinted in full below.
The President, in remarks delivered yesterday in New York, condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement.
In writing to you, I seek to advance no political, partisan, or personal agenda.
Nor do I believe that a Special Agent or Task Force Officer of the DEA would mistreat a defendant. I know that you would not.
So, why do I write?
I write to offer a strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we, as law enforcement professionals, adhere.
I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong. That’s what law enforcement officers do. That’s what you do. We fix stuff. At least, we try.
Our Core Values are clear and applicable:
* Rule of Law
* Respect and Compassion
* Leadership and Courage
This is how we conduct ourselves. This is how we treat those whom we encounter in our work: victims, witnesses, subjects, and defendants. This is who we are.
I am incredibly grateful that you endeavor to live up to our Core Values, each day. It is not always easy, but it is always important.
We must earn and keep the public trust and continue to hold ourselves to the very highest standards. Ours is an honorable profession and, so, we will always act honorably.
Thank you for all that you do.
I am proud to be your colleague.
Rosenberg had previously spoken out about his belief in the so-called “Ferguson effect,” a point of disagreement with the Obama White House.
UPDATE: 6:50 p.m. ― Speaking to leaders of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Sessions on Tuesday afternoon echoed the administration’s explanation of Trump’s police brutality comments, The Washington Post reports.
“I won’t say that [Sessions] defended him, but he did say he felt like [Trump] made that statement in jest,” said Clarence Cox III, the group’s incoming president.
Nick Wing contributed reporting.