11/14/2003 Newsletter

Contents:

  • Survivor/Family Empowerment Event
  • Rickey Jones Court Support
  • Kenyatta Stone Court Support
  • Bryce Williams Court Support
  • New Civilian Review Authority Rules
  • Spokesman Recorder: Prosecuters Should Not Have Access to CRA Files
  • Spokesman Recorder: CRA Needs Autonomy for Success

SURVIVOR/FAMILY EMPOWERMENT EVENT
Sunday, December 7th
5:00 p.m.
2104 Stevens Avenue
Minneapolis
For directions or transportation, call 612-874-7867

CUAPB will be holding a Survivor/Family Empowerment Event just in time for the holidays. This event is a get-together for survivors of police brutality and family members of victims (people killed by police). A delicious meal and child care are provided. Transportation is also provided for folks who need it.

These events give people affected by police brutality a place to relax and enjoy themselves with others who understand what they are going through. People who attended previous survivor/family events have commented how much they enjoyed themselves and how great it was to meet folks like themselves. One man who attended told us he thought he would be the only "normal" person there and that everyone else would be criminals and thugs. He was amazed to find many nice people like himself who had been affected by police brutality. Some of the people who meet at events attend each other's court dates, help each other find lawyers, etc. Now that's what we call empowerment!

WE WILL NEED A LOT OF VOLUNTEERS to make this event a success. We need cooks, drivers, help with child care, setting up and decorating the room, etc. If you can give a few hours of your time before or during the event, it would definitely be appreciated. If you are an entertainer, we'd like to talk to you about a possible role you could play.

WE ARE ALSO BADLY IN NEED OF FUNDS AND/OR DONATIONS OF FOOD for this event. We are asking people to sponsor this event in the amount of $50 but any donation would be gratefully accepted. We could also use donations of ingredients needed to prepare the meal. For a list of needed food donations, please reply to this email or call our hotline at 612-874-7867.

PLEASE ALSO HELP US SPREAD THE WORD: If you know of a survivor or family member, please let them know about this event. We are sending out invitations but may not reach everyone. If you are a survivor or family member, please mark your calendar and plan to attend.


COURT SUPPORT OPPORTUNITIES
November 17, 2:00 p.m.
Hennepin County Government Center
Rickey Jones pretrial. Even though this is "just" a pretrial, this is a very hot case--anything can happen.

November 18, 9:00 a.m.
Hennepin County Government Center, Courtroom 1156
Kenyatta Stone arraignment. Kenyatta was waiting for a bus at 7th and Nicollet on his way to work. A group of officers were across street with some youths lined up. One officer crossed the street and collided with Kenyatta. He was grabbed by the coat, cuffed and dragged, and accused of bumping the cop intentionally. He is charged with disorderly conduct, which pretty much sounds like what the cops did to him.

December 1st, 11 a.m.
Location TBA
Bryce Williams, pretrial as a result of arrest during the Justice for Philander Jenkins rally. It is very important that the court see that Bryce has the support of the community. Mark your calendars now and we'll give you details on the location soon.


NEW CRA RULES: SOME VIEWPOINTS
Former CUAPB Advisory Board member Michael Friedman was recently appointed chair of the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) Board in Minneapolis. He is writing a series of articles for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper to educate the community on issues surrounding the new CRA. Michelle Gross, a CUAPB board member, has been invited to provide a community response to these articles. The first articles, which appeared in this week's Spokesman, are below. They concern an important new rule for the CRA. The city council is expected to vote on this new rule at their next meeting: Friday, November 21 at 9:30 a.m. in City Council chambers, City Hall (350 S 5th Street in Minneapolis). We would encourage folks to attend or to call your council member before the meeting and tell them to support this new rule.

We would also encourage interested readers to subscribe to the Spokesman, a locally owned publication that does a great job covering issues of interest to the community. To have the Spokesman delivered to your door every week, go to http://www.spokesman-recorder.com/News/AboutUs.asp?sID=30
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Prosecuters should not have access to CRA files
By: Michael Friedman
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 11/12/2003
http://www.spokesman-recorder.com/news/Article/Article.asp?NewsID=34699&sID=13

In the entire history of the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority (CRA), all city attorneys have been allowed to read through the complete files of anyone who made a complaint against a police officer. A majority of the new Civilian Review Board has voted to change that. We don’t want city prosecutors having access to those files.

Why is this important?

Well, suppose this is what you tell a CRA investigator: you heard some shouting in the street, and you came out of your apartment to check it out. You saw police manhandling someone who denied he did anything wrong. After that person was handcuffed, one of the cops passed you and you asked for his badge number. Next thing you knew, you were down on the ground. The cop’s elbow was at your throat, making it hard to breathe, especially since you have asthma. So you flipped hard on your side to free your neck. You were beat up some, handcuffed, and taken to jail for obstructing the legal process with force, a gross misdemeanor.

If a city prosecutor looked into that file, they could take one of your lines out of context, "flipped hard on your side," and make that part of the evidence against you--proof that you obstructed. A Judge will inform the jury that obstruction is illegal even if the arrest was unlawful. A jury will also be told that you don’t have to consider all the circumstances, just narrow it down to the crime’s definition: was an arrest obstructed? Add to the mix a county jury that has little understanding of city street reality, and bingo: you are found guilty as charged.

Defense attorneys know the danger of a defendant making a statement that could be twisted and used against them. And the Fifth Amendment gives defendants the right not to make statements. Which is why, if you have been charged or might be charged, it’s a good idea to refuse to talk to police even if you’re innocent. That’s what the Legal Rights Center, where I work, advises.

Because prosecutors can access CRA files and use anything inside against defendants, defense attorneys at the Legal Rights Center now typically tell their clients: "Don’t file a complaint until your case is resolved. Not only would you give up your Fifth Amendment rights, but you draw attention to your case. It might also be harder for me to convince the city prosecutor to offer a CWOP, which is an offer to dismiss if there are no new charges." It’s likely all experienced defense attorneys would say the same.

In the above scenario, it might take three months or more before that obstruction charge is resolved by the court. By that point, you might not want to make a complaint any more. You might be sick of the whole situation, or depressed that you were found guilty. You might assume (wrongly) that the CRA would hold that guilty finding against you. Maybe some neighbors who saw the whole thing have moved, so you’ve lost key witnesses.

With no complaint filed, the officer has no reason to think twice about arresting and roughing up the next person who asks for his badge number.

The Civilian Review Board doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to investigate cases when they’re fresh, when witnesses are best available and memories are sharpest.

We also want a level playing field. In the above example, here’s what happens to the cop once a complaint is filed. He is given a notice ordering him to be interviewed by a CRA investigator. If he refuses, he could be fired; it’s part of his obligation as a police employee.

Suppose in his interview he says, "You gotta teach these street thugs a lesson. The judges don’t do anything. You have to punish them on the street." Could that be used to prosecute the officer?

No. The notice ordering the cop to speak to the CRA provides immunity from prosecution for anything said in that interview. It’s automatic. And the reason is the cop’s Fifth Amendment rights. Because he is required to talk, anything he says can’t be used against him.

The Civilian Review Board wants both sides, not just one, to have their Fifth Amendment rights protected. And it defeats the entire purpose of the CRA if police officers have an incentive to arrest someone they have committed misconduct on because someone facing charges will be advised not to file a timely complaint!

But our vote does not make the issue final. We passed a rule, but the city council must approve our rules before they are final. At our public hearing that preceded our vote--in which we heard testimony on this, and other, issues--the city attorney assigned to our board told us that his office would work to get the city council not to approve this rule. No satisfactory explanation was provided. No reason was given for why county prosecutors don’t need to see the contents of CRA files but city prosecutors do.

I do acknowledge that the language of our rule may be broader than necessary. It says that CRA files are only to be shared within the CRA. The reason we used that language for our rule is because the city law which created the CRA used the very same language.

The city attorney told us that the law’s language was a mistake. But if so, the majority of the Civilian Review Board believes it to be the city council’s job to modify the law to correct any errors, not our own. And that correction should keep CRA files away from city prosecutors.

In essence, what the board has done by voting in the rule against the wishes of the city attorney, is to say to that office: If you really need access to CRA files, convince the city council to modify the ordinance. Don’t be an obstacle to a rule, which says the same thing as city law. Don’t expect total access to CRA files for every city attorney, but justify which city attorneys need that access. Say publicly why the prosecutor of someone claiming police misconduct needs to read that CRA file.

And the message to the city council is: If you’re going to change the ordinance, please include the public and the CRA Board in that conversation. Please respect our need to make the CRA a fair and impartial institution for resolving complaints against police. Help us limit the incentive police already have to arrest to cover up for misconduct. Don’t let prosecutors see CRA files without valid, and publicly explained, reasons.

The views expressed in this column are Michael Friedman’s and may not be shared by other members of the board.

The Civilian Review Board meets the first Wednesday of every month at 6:30 pm in Room 135 of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange Building, 400 S. 4th St, Minneapolis. A portion of every meeting is devoted to public comment. To request notification of the board applications’ availability, or to file a complaint, please call 612-673-5500. Michael Friedman welcomes responses and letters to civilianreviewboard@yahoo.com, or Minneapolis CRA, 400 S.4th St. Room 1004, Minneapolis, 55415.
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CRA needs autonomy for success
By: Michelle Gross
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 11/12/2003
http://www.spokesman-recorder.com/news/Article/Article.asp?NewsID=34698&sID=13

For most of the 11 years it has existed, the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority (CRA) has been considered ineffective and even a sham that did more to cover for police brutality than to address it. A year and a half ago, the CRA went through a redesign process, primarily meant to save the City money, but also to put it more firmly under City control.

The newly reconstituted CRA board is forming new working rules to get up and running again. This is a point in which the community can exert some control about how this new CRA will operate. Depending on how the rules are put together, the CRA can work in ways that are more favorable to community members who have been harmed by police brutality or it can continue its long path of being a cover-up agency. As community members, it is our responsibility to pressure the City to adopt rules that help us get justice from the CRA.

As an activist with Communities United Against Police Brutality and a member of the CRA redesign working group, I could not agree with Michael Friedman more: one of the most important new rules has to be that City and county attorneys cannot get access to CRA complaint files. When you understand the role these attorneys play, you’ll understand why this rule is so important and why we need to work hard to get the city council to adopt it.

The City attorney’s office plays a dual role for the City of Minneapolis. First, they prosecute all crimes committed within the City that are less than felonies. Secondly, they protect the City from liability in lawsuits by defending the City if it is sued and by trying to reduce potential liability. Police brutality incidents are where the two roles intersect.

Like most large cities, Minneapolis is self-insured, which means that instead of buying expensive insurance policies to cover things like car accidents, injury claims, etc., the City puts money aside in a pot and then uses it to pay claims. The City attorney’s office is responsible for keeping losses from this pot of money to a minimum. For that reason, if they think police have abused someone, they often see to it that the person is charged with a crime. Police know this and the saying in the street is "if you hit ‘em, you’ve got to arrest ‘em" so that City attorneys have something to work with.

City attorneys know that if they are able to convict someone of a crime, that person will probably be unsuccessful in suing the City for brutality. After all, if a person did something wrong, then the cop’s use of force becomes justified.

So, City attorneys try to get a conviction on something--anything--to avoid a lawsuit later. You can see this played out by spending some time at Hennepin County Government Center’s courtroom 1156. That’s the arraignment courtroom, where folks plead innocent or guilty. City attorneys spend the entire time there wheeling and dealing, trying to get people to plead guilty to some kind of offense. Many times they are trying to save the taxpayers the time and expense of a trial. But plenty of times they are trying to cover the City’s "backside" against future lawsuits for police brutality.

As court watchers, we’ve noticed that City attorneys are particularly aggressive in going after people who have been abused by police. That’s why City attorneys should not be allowed to have access to the CRA complaint files. Allowing them access to these files is like giving them a list of people to go after. No one in their right mind would make a complaint to the CRA if they thought the information would be used against them by a City attorney. If the CRA is going to regain any credibility, its files must not be used as "easy pickings" by the City attorney’s office.

During the redesign process, the City attorney’s office, the police federation and most of the city council worked hand in glove to make sure the new CRA would have no power. The new CRA board, which is made up of community members, has other ideas. They are fighting hard to make sure they have what they need to get the job done. We wish them luck. As a community, though, we should not wait for them to fight our battles. They are going up against some powerful interests, and we need to back them up as they push for these important rule changes. Only then will we get what we need: an institution that helps people get real justice in cases of police brutality.

Michelle Gross works with the Communities United Against Police Brutality, and she welcomes reader responses to mgresist@minn.net.
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Communities United Against Police Brutality
2104 Stevens Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)


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