8/7/2011 Newsletter

Contents:

  • Stronger United: CUAPB Hosts National Conference
  • CUAPB Work Recognized
  • CRA or CRAP?
  • Cost of Minneapolis Police Payouts Could Hit Record This Year

STRONGER UNITED: Help CUAPB Host National Conference

September 23-25, 2011
At the end of last year, CUAPB worked with a number of groups on an amicus brief challenging the criminalization of copwatchers. The experience was just wonderful and started us thinking about more ways to connect with groups around the country to strengthen all of our work. From that came the idea of a national conference that will bring together organizations from across North America to discuss our strategies, compare the issues we’re facing in our local work, and build a stronger police accountability movement. CUAPB is thrilled to be hosting this national convergence, September 23-25 at Walker Church. We really need your help to make it a success.

There are a few main ways you can help make the conference run smoothly.

Housing: We anticipate that 50 activists will be coming to Minneapolis for the weekend of the conference, and we’re committed to housing everyone for free to keep the costs of the conference low. Do you have an open couch, a guest room, or even some nice cushy floor space? Can you volunteer to house one or more activists at your home over the weekend? Your only responsibility will be to make sure that out-of-town guests have a place to sleep at night. Food will be provided. If you’re able to transport conference attendees to and from Walker Church, we would appreciate it, but you can certainly host attendees even if you can't provide transportation.

Food: Can you donate your time or some ingredients to help make meals and snacks for people attending the conference? Pair up with a friend and whip up a salad, some chili, or your grandma’s best hot dish. Plan to cook for about 50 people.

Transportation: Can you pick folks up at the airport, or drive participants to and from the conference at Walker Church? Do you have an extra bicycle that a participant could borrow for the weekend to get around?

Volunteers: We will need volunteers during the conference to assist attendees, set up workshops, help with meals and other tasks. Volunteers will have the opportunity to attend the conference for free.

Money: Of course, there are a lot of other costs associated with this conference, and we’re committed to keeping it affordable for participants. We need to rent space, pay for gas for transportation, buy workshop supplies, make copies, etc. Contributions of any size are much appreciated.

If you can help with any aspect of the national conference, please call our hotline at 612-874-STOP or email mgresist@minn.net.


CUAPB WORK RECOGNIZED

You may not realize it but CUAPB is considered a national model for community efforts to hold police accountable. Quite often our work is cited by others. Here are a few recent examples:

Samuel Clark, former Newark, NJ police officer who exposed brutality and corruption on the force has published the second edition of his book Total Misconduct. Once again, our work is featured in his book and we are thankful for his kind words. You may remember that Sam spoke at our 10 year anniversary event. His book can be purchased at http://disclosurepublishing.com/

SWAN Newsletter quoted extensively from our website in an article on documenting police brutality and misconduct. You can see the article at http://swannet.org/node/1511

Yes! Weekly, the Greensboro, NC equivalent of our City Pages just cited our organization in the article Ideas Greensboro Could Benefit From. We couldn't be more pleased. You can read the article at http://npaper-wehaa.com/yes-weekly/2011/07/06/#?article=1317974&page=4


CRA or CRAP?

Why is the mayor, city attorney's office, police chief, and even the CRA board chair determined to wipe out police oversight?

The battle over police oversight by the Civilian Review Authority is about lost at this point, with the mayor, city attorney's office, police chief Dolan, and CRA chair Bellfield holding equal blame for the implosion. Some recent examples:

--The city and police federation have included a provision in the collective bargaining agreement that if the police officer disagrees with the findings of the CRA board, the federation can request a review by the CRA board chair and CRA manager (now called the assistant director) and that review "shall have the authority to modify the CRA finding(s)." This provision appears to be in direct violation of the city's CRA ordinance, which states "the chief's disciplinary decision shall be based on the adjudicated facts as determined by the civilian review authority board." (See http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cra/docs/CRA_ORDINANCE_CHAPTER_172_03-27-09.pdf). Nowhere in the ordinance is the CRA assistant director or CRA chair given the power to overrule board determinations, yet this is exactly what is happening. When questioned at the July board meeting, the assistant director replied that the situation comes up rarely--as if that's an acceptable answer for violating the ordinance.

--Chief Dolan continues to refuse to discipline officers for sustained CRA complaints and he continues to cite reasons that are violations of the ordinance, such as not agreeing with the board's findings or the ruling being outside of the "reconing period" (an internal police policy that increases discipline if multiple infractions of the same type occur within the same time period--a policy that has NOTHING to do with CRA rulings). Despite scathing reports exposing the pathetically low percentage of sustained CRA complaints disciplined by the chief (see http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cra/docs/CRA-Board_Chief-Dolan_review_2009.pdf and http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cra/docs/CRA-Dolan-review-2010_120110.pdf ), the city attorney's office continues to issue memos defending the chief's violation of the CRA ordinance and the mayor ignored these findings during the chief's performance review and reappointed Dolan in March 2010.

--During the lead-up to Dolan's reappointment hearing, there was significant political heat not to appoint him to another term. Things got so hot, in fact, that Dolan felt compelled to attend the February 2010 CRA board meeting--the only meeting he's ever attended, despite numerous invitations. Dolan was so worried that the board would follow the ordinance and report his violations to the city council that he also felt compelled to promise to meet with the CRA chair to discuss discipline issues. He invited the chair to contact him to set up a meeting. For months afterward, board members asked chair Bellfield to arrange the meeting and he failed to do so. At several board meetings, Bellfield stated he hadn't met with Dolan. Then, suddenly, at the July 2011 meeting Bellfield claimed that he had reported at a previous board meeting that he had met with Dolan. A year's worth of meeting minutes prove this is a bold-faced lie. This outrageous lie comes on top of Bellfield canceling the March 2010 board meeting without notice, unilaterally moving the CRA board meeting times to 5:30 p.m. (instead of 6:30 p.m.), and pulling other stunts to limit the transparency of board actions and stifle the public's participation in board meetings. In short, Bellfield treats the CRA as his personal fiefdom and acts as if his responsibility is to please the city and police administrations rather than uphold the CRA's mission. Despite his outrageous and dishonest actions, the mayor recently reappointed him to another term as chair.

The CRA board has four vacancies and the city doesn't seem in any hurry to fill them. The board is months behind on holding hearings. In addition, the agency is short an investigator and is still investigating cases back to 2009. The agency completes well less than a dozen investigations a month but has about 120 investigations in the hopper. Not only do these delays deny people any measure of justice, but they have become the latest excuse for the chief to refuse to discipline sustained complaints--he recently started citing the requirement in the ordinance that investigations be completed within 60 days.

If the CRA staff and board members labor under the notion that their efforts contribute to police accountability, the community is under no such illusions. A very low percentage of initial complaints from the community are ever signed by community members and turn into investigations. Of those complaints that continue through the system, less than 20% of allegations are sustained, with an even smaller number ever receiving discipline. If anything, the CRA is seen as a minor annoyance to brutal cops and the city administration, and as a bad joke to the community.

Ultimately, the community will need to decide if it makes sense to try to reform the CRA and make it more accountable to its mission and the community or to abolish it outright. Letting it drag on as a sham process shouldn't be an option.

The recent convictions of seven cops in New Orleans for crimes that occurred in the days after hurricane Katrina are an indication of what happens when police agencies are allowed to run amok with little community oversight. While the situation in New Orleans may seem extreme, we have plenty of outrageous conduct right here to be concerned about. The costs are tremendous--both financially and in the quality of life, especially for communities of color. The article below gives details on the financial costs, but the costs in fear and lack of trust are harder to measure.


COST OF MINNEAPOLIS POLICE PAYOUTS COULD HIT RECORD THIS YEAR

MATT McKINNEY and COREY MITCHELL
July 31, 2011
http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/126494938.html?page=all&prepage=2&c=y#continue

Settling misconduct claims doubled in cost during the first three years of Police Chief Tim Dolan's leadership.

The cost of settling police misconduct claims has doubled for incidents that occurred since Tim Dolan became Minneapolis police chief, even as the number of individual payouts has dropped.

This year, after a major jury award for the family of a mentally ill man slain by police, the city has paid out $3.3 million for a dozen claims that police went over the line, according to the city attorney's office. It's a pace that could make this a record year for police settlements.

Dolan says better training and legal work have lowered police misconduct claims to 12 to 15 each year, down from 20 to 30 annually before he became chief. Even some department critics credit him for taking a harder line on rogue cops.

But excluding two outsized settlements -- $2.19 million for the 2006 killing of Dominic Felder and $4.5 million for the 2003 shooting of undercover officer Duy Ngo -- the $90,395 average cost of police misconduct claims in Dolan's first three years was more than double what it was in the three years before he was named chief.

These are cases in which a wayward punch, a rough arrest or a Taser blast captured on video can cost the city's insurance fund five figures or more.

In an interview, Dolan said it didn't surprise him that settlements are higher, given the ever-rising price of litigation.

"The cost of doing business in that environment is going up dramatically," Dolan said. "It's very common now to see the 25 [thousand] to 50 [thousand] range. Even if you win, you're going to spend more than that on attorneys."

More accountability

Yet one man who sued police after his arrest during a demonstration says the city paid him double what he expected. During a Critical Mass bicycle rally in 2007, Augustin Ganley was pepper sprayed and slammed face first on the trunk of a police cruiser. He won $75,000 after suing to recoup $30,000 in legal fees from his dismissed criminal charges.

"We were trying to hold the police accountable," Ganley said about his lawsuit. "After all we went through, I expected them to be more stubborn. The decision making process, it's still a mystery to me."

A lawyer who has won $8 million in settlements and jury verdicts suing the Minneapolis police says it's not the lawyers' fault that costs are going up. Robert Bennett said he hasn't noticed a difference in how the city handles cases now that Dolan is chief.

"They don't do a very good job of disciplining their officers," Bennett said.

The rise in costs has gone largely unnoticed -- the city attorney's office said it hasn't seen any patterns in the settlement cases -- because most settlement claims are grouped by the year in which they get paid. So far this year, the city has cut checks for incidents that occurred in six of the past eight years. Some cases take a long time to wind through court. Some don't get filed immediately, because plaintiffs are allowed six years from the date of the original incident to sue the city.

It's only when cases are arranged by the year in which the incident took place that the sudden rise in costs becomes evident. In some of those, the cases are dominated by legal costs.

In 2008, Nicole Madison was standing outside a Warehouse District nightclub at 2 a.m. when she was punched in the face. She said it was officer Daniel Willis, but the officer denied it, saying he was pushing into the crowd to stop a fight.

Madison was cut on her cheek and needed stitches. She sued and the case went to trial. She eventually won a $20,000 award, but the city also had to pay her attorney's fees. The total bill: $296,490.

Settlement amounts don't necessarily reflect hospital bills or the severity of injury. In 2008, a man who was caught breaking into a car in a downtown parking garage was arrested by officer Sherry Appledorn. A video taken by a parking ramp security camera shows Appledorn struggling with the man as he lies face down on the pavement. The man, Nicholas Kastner, filed a lawsuit alleging he was stomped on, kicked at least a dozen times and shocked at least twice by a Taser. The suit alleged that Appledorn's partner, Joseph Will, also punched Kastner in the head. He suffered bruises on his back and shoulders.

Dolan later determined that the use of force was excessive. Appledorn was disciplined. Will was not. Kastner won a $75,000 settlement plus legal fees of another $50,000.

More misconduct?

A laceration on Meghan Wong's cheek resulted in an even larger settlement. In 2007, Wong was injured by an officer after she and two others were escorted out of a Warehouse District nightclub. She later sued. The eventual cost was $169,500.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said the settlement costs rose quickly because of the number of plaintiffs, the potential for emotional distress claims and a constitutional claim. In constitutional cases, the city can be forced to pay the plaintiff's attorneys fees. Wong's attorney was Bennett, who can be awarded fees of $500 an hour, Segal said.

Still, Segal said her office takes a tough stand on the claims and doesn't simply settle cases to make them go away. Since 2009, the city has prevailed in 38 cases and paid out in 39, her office reported.

So are the rising costs evidence of more misconduct? Attorney Paul Edlund thinks so. Business ramped up for him after he represented Derryl Jenkins, who won a $235,000 settlement after an in-car camera recorded the scene of officers punching and stomping him after a traffic stop in 2009.

Edlund has noticed more defendants facing misdemeanor charges showing up at his office for consultation sporting black eyes and stitches, he said.

"I've heard countless other clients share similar stories, but the incidents haven't been caught on video," Edlund said.

Improving training

The Jenkins case led to a new round of training within the department about when it's appropriate to kick to subdue a suspect.

"The Jenkins video definitely changed a lot, as far as what we do on the street," said Dolan.

City Council Member Cam Gordon praised Dolan for establishing an early warning system designed to identify potential problem officers and offer them training and counseling. Gordon, one of five council members who opposed Dolan's reappointment last year, credits the chief with firing more rogue officers than his predecessors without rankling the rank-and-file.

"Officers see him as an advocate and not someone who's out to get them," he said. "We should be welcoming complaints. If not, we could have stuff going on that we don't hear about."

Longtime American Indian Movement activist Clyde Bellecourt credits Dolan with taking a tougher stance on officer misconduct cases, but openly wondered how much officer behavior has changed.

Bellecourt was a member of the federally mandated Minneapolis Police Community Relations Council, which was created on the heels of several officer-involved shootings, one of which triggered a riot in north Minneapolis. The council dissolved in 2009 with much of its mission incomplete. Part of the reason was that citizen members were often swamped with concerns about police brutality. The only way to receive justice is to sue, Bellecourt said.

"The only thing they understand is when you hit them in the wallet," he said.


"There is a price to pay for speaking the truth. There is a bigger price for living a lie."-Dr. Cornel West


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