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Puerto Rico police department hit with new civil rights lawsuit

SAN JUAN (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit on Monday against the Puerto Rico Police Department claiming that it discriminated against a policewoman by failing to stop colleagues from continuously harassing her over her race, color and religion.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico, alleged that the Puerto Rico Police Department discriminated against Yolanda Carrasquillo by failing to stop her co-workers subjecting her "to daily verbal harassment about her race, color and Christian faith over a period of approximately three years beginning in 2007 and ending in 2010," according to a Justice Department news release.

A police department spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.

The announcement came less than a week after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Puerto Rico's Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced sweeping changes in Puerto Rico's police department aimed at curbing violence and abuse within its ranks and settling a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against the department in December.

The discrimination against Carrasquillo often allegedly took place in the presence of her co-workers and supervisory police officers at the department.

It continued despite numerous complaints about the harassment by Carrasquillo to her supervisors, the release stated, but the department "failed to take any meaningful steps to stop the harassment or discipline the harasser."

Through this lawsuit, the Justice Department said it is requiring the police department "to develop and implement policies" to prevent future discrimination against its employees, as well as financial compensation for Carrasquillo.

Last week's agreement between the Department of Justice and Puerto Rico includes new rules for the handling of civilian complaints and internal investigations by the police, and introduces strict new policies on the use of force by police officers in the crime-plagued commonwealth.

It also focuses on recruitment and training, and contains new measures to strengthen oversight of the 17,000-member police force, the second largest in the United States.

That followed a scathing 116-page report about the Puerto Rico Police Department issued by the Justice Department in September that said the force had a "longstanding" pattern of civil rights violations that had essentially left it as a "broken" tool for law enforcement.

(Reporting by Reuters in San Juan; Writing by David Adams; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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