5/16/2003 Newsletter


  • Shot Red-Handed: Video Captures Police Brutality
  • Know Your Rights Training
  • Oral Arguments in Yeazizw Case
  • Spokesman Recorder: ‘Scorched Earth’ Policy Punishes Brutality Victims
  • MN Daily: Run-In Addresses First Amendment Issues

Regular readers of this newsletter will recall that Rickey Jones is a professional photographer who was working downtown when he spied police brutalizing a man and caught the event on film. As a result, Rickey has become a target for four brutal police officers who have gone after him with a vengeance. He has endured seven separate attacks/arrests from these cops.

In one of the incidents, Rickey was hired to videotape a birthday party of African American family and friends. Although the partygoers were well behaved, a large number of police rushed the party, macing everyone present and hitting some people. Rickey grabbed his video camera and started filming. Suddenly, a police officer smashed his camera out of his hands, knocked him to the ground and several cops jumped in and beat him savagely. Unknown to the cops, the camera continued to run after it hit the floor, capturing much of the attack on film.

Police took the camera and film at "evidence," eventually returning a badly damaged camera but not the film. As is typical in these cases, Rickey was charged with obstructing legal process, a misdemeanor.

Rickey's lawyer, Jill Clark, has attempted repeatedly to get a copy of the video. City attorneys stonewalled her every step of the way. She was finally able to get a look at it just this week and the viciousness of what she saw on the tape shocked even this veteran civil rights attorney. What she learned from the video tape is that Rickey clearly committed no crime and that police charged him to cover up their own crimes. Moreover, by prosecuting the case, the city attorney's office is part of this cover up. In light of this information, Ms. Clark made a formal report to the US Justice Department.

Although there is some very damning footage on the tape, it appears the tape has been tampered with. Strategic parts of it are missing. Ms. Clark is attempting to get access to the original tape to have it tested. It will be interesting to see if the city will come up with the tape or if it will magically come up "missing".

Due to the serious nature of this evidence, Ms. Clark has sent the following open letter to Police Chief Robert Olson and City Attorney Jay Heffern:
Dear Chief Olson and City Attorney Heffern:

I represent Mr. Rickey Jones in a criminal action brought by the City of Minneapolis (02-94159). On May 13, 2003, I viewed an extremely disturbing videotape at the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, showing police misconduct. Within hours of viewing the videotape, I made a report to the United States Department of Justice about what I saw on the tape, and it was suggested that I publicly disclose the information.

After viewing the videotape, I am concerned for the safety of my client, for my safety, and for the safety of witnesses to the event. I am writing to make my knowledge known, and hopefully to deter future misconduct, retaliation, or destruction of evidence.

I have reason to believe that the videotape has already been tampered with. I do expect an assurance from Mr. Heffern that the videotape will be promptly made available to me, in the form I viewed it on May 13, 2003. I have also requested access to the original camcorder tape. I expect it not to disappear.

In order to protect my client and deter future incidents, I am having him surveilled as he drives around town and loads and unloads his equipment. Chief Olson, this is to put you on notice that if your Officers attempt to harass or attack my client, they will be caught on videotape.

Jill Clark
Now we think it says something when an attorney for a person who has been beaten by police has to send a letter to the city attorney's office to remind them not to destroy evidence and has to hire body guards to follow her client around to keep him safe. Something here is very, very wrong.

Rickey's case was in court today for a pretrial hearing. What an education that was! First, as expected, the prosecutor did not have the tape with her in court today as requested. She claims to have "sent it out" to have copies made. Let's just hope the courier service doesn't happen to "lose" it.

Secondly, Judge Janet Posten presided. She is apparently typical in that she was grossly and obviously biased toward the prosecution. However, what made her stand out was how incompetent she was. Every few minutes, she would have to stop and read the law books to figure out what to do. It was quite the sight. According to our research, Judge Posten has never practiced law. She's a lawyer but she only ever worked as a law clerk before being elected judge. Do you think someone like that should be a judge?

Finally, in the middle of the hearing, the prosecution had Rickey served (by a deputy and the whole bit) with notice of two additional charges. These new charges were so fabricated as to be laughable. They used the charges to try to cow Rickey into taking a really bad "deal" in which he would be sentenced to the maximum amount of time. However, they made a tactical error. Because they only gave him the charges today, his lawyer was unable to submit pretrial motions on these new charges at least three days before the pretrial hearing, as required. They would have had to let her file pretrial motions and have the pretrial hearing again. Since they knew that Ms. Clark would probably file a motion about discriminatory enforcement of the law, and since they don't want anyone to be able to show that the Minneapolis police discriminate, they decided at the last minute to drop the new charges.

Stay tuned for further installments in the Rickey Jones saga. This is truly a case study in the way cops and courts work hand in glove to deny justice to victims of police brutality and cover up crimes of the cops. For more on this, see Pauline Thomas' piece below.

Workshop on how not to be victimized by police brutality
Saturday, May 24
2:00 p.m.
IATP Building
2104 Stevens Avenue
Community meeting and training session on how to protect your rights and survive an encounter with police. Topics include:
· Knowing Your Rights
· What to Say (and What Not to Say) to a Police Officer
· Dealing with Traffic Stops
· Your Rights Regarding Searches
· Your Rights Regarding ID Cards
· What to Do (and Not Do) if Arrested
This training will be presented jointly by CUAPB and the National Lawyers Guild--MN Chapter and is cosponsored by Community Collaborative and Anti-Racist Action. We'll also be presenting information on what to do if you are brutalized by police and about our class action lawsuit. Be there!

CUAPB has engaged in a lofty project--trying to obtain and put on our website all CRA and Internal Affairs complaints on Minneapolis police officers. (Don't worry, St. Paul--you'll be next!) Much of the data can just be keyed in but we have some actual complaints and other source documents we want to scan into the computer so that folks can click on them and see them. To do this, we need to borrow a scanner and operating software from someone. If you have a scanner that is sitting around collecting dust, please call Michelle at 612-703-1612 and we'll put it to work!

A good sized group of people were in state court on Thursday, May 15 to hear oral arguments in the appeal of the Mebrat Yeazizw case.

Ms. Yeazizw, an Ethiopian immigrant, was harassed on her job because of her religion and was eventually fired when she refused a task that would have forced her to violate her religious beliefs. She went to her former place of employment, as requested, to pick up her final check. She noticed that the check was short a number of hours and mentioned this to the owner. The owner, Geralyn Mornson**, became hysterical and threw a heavy calculator at Ms. Yeazizw, cutting her arm.

Police were called and when they arrived, they immediately began arresting Ms. Yeazizw even though she attempted repeatedly to explain that she was the victim. Police refused to even do a minimal investigation to see what was really happening. At one point, Ms. Yeazizw stated "You're arresting me because I'm Black," at which time the cops grabbed her and arrested her. She was charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing legal process.

Oral arguments centered around the unconstitutionality of arresting someone for their words. Some time ago, the disorderly conduct by speech statute was, in essence, overturned by a US Supreme Court decision but the state of Minnesota is a bit behind the times. Our courts basically narrowed the statute so that arrest could not be based on speech alone but since they didn't take the rule off the books altogether, cops are still using it to unfairly arrest people like Mebrat Yeazizw. The point of the appeal is to try to overturn the statute outright. If this happens, a lot of people will be spared arrest when they complain about police harassing them or when they verbally criticize police.

The next step is to wait for a decision from the three judge state appeals panel. We will report on the outcome as soon as it becomes available.

**If the name Geralyn Mornson rings a bell, it is because this wealthy white Edina businesswoman was involved in a high speed chase with police in Richfield in which she hit and killed a jogger, Duane Mumm. This happened shortly after the incident with Ms. Yeazizw. Ms. Yeazizw was prosecuted right away for her run-in with Ms. Mornson (Mornson's role in that incident was never investigated and she was never charged). On the other hand, it took prosecutors several months to bring charges against Ms. Mornson for running over and killing a pedestrian. Mornson was recently sentenced to four years probation for this killing. Already, Ms. Yeazizw has spent more time in jail for her "criminal" speech than Ms. Mornson has spent in jail for killing someone. I guess there is a different standard of justice for wealthy white Edina businesswomen.

By: Pauline Thomas
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 5/14/2003

Minneapolis City Council Member Barb Johnson is fond of saying that Minneapolis doesn’t need to pay attention to police misconduct, because victims of police brutality can file lawsuits against the police in the courts. If she’s suggesting it, something’s got to be wrong with it.

As Chair of the Ways and Means Committee of the city council, Johnson essentially governs the City Attorney’s Office, the department that represents the City in all of its lawsuits. Perhaps it is because of Johnson’s reign that when members of our community take to the courts, the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office leaves behind "scorched earth."

Scorched earth is a war term. When armies swept through towns and villages, conquering them for military purposes, many would take the cruel and unnecessary step of burning the houses and crops, leaving only scorched earth in their wake. Since legal battles often mimic war, the term “scorched earth” is slang used to describe a certain type of litigation policy. The corporate policy of forcing cases all the way down the litigation road, regardless of merit, is known as a "scorched earth" litigation policy. The term is often used in the insurance industry, in reference to insurance companies that refuse to settle lawsuits, dragging them all out and forcing them to go through trial, in order to gain an advantage in their overall litigation strategy.

What advantages are there to such a policy? Some believe that dragging out all legal battles discourages future lawsuits. Some believe that, just like the motives of the conquering army, the real motive behind these policies is unnecessary cruelty. No matter what the motive, a lengthy process drains the financial and emotional resources of the plaintiff.

In Minneapolis, many are concerned that when it comes to police brutality lawsuits, the City has a “scorched earth” litigation policy. The City uses these tactics in other cases as well (such as housing discrimination cases), but this policy is at its worst when it comes to police brutality cases. This means that the City forces these lawsuits to go all the way through litigation (which can take years), and then forces the cases to trial rather than settling them for what they are worth.

Why does the City do this? First, whoever sets policy for the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office seems to have aligned themselves with police. Rather than keeping an open mind and assessing whether, indeed, someone has been beaten by a police officer and has unpaid medical bills, the City Attorney’s Office starts from the viewpoint that the police are in the right and the victim is lying. It is no mystery that this benefits police. Second, the City hopes that by dragging the lawsuit out, the victim will become weary, financially strapped, and emotionally drained. They want victims of police brutality to drop their lawsuits, and they want to discourage other victims from filing these lawsuits. This unnecessary cruelty to human beings, something we see so much of in our community, is policy at the City Attorney’s Office. They punish us rather than fix the problem.

Third, the City hopes that if they can take the case to an all-White jury (just you watch them work to get Blacks off those juries), that they can "win." Rather than educating the public (including White suburbanites) about the real problems in the police department, or (heaven forbid!) fixing the problems, the City hopes to "beat" us in court. It’s not enough to beat us in the flesh, they then have to beat us in the system!

Now the City will tell you that it does settle some cases. But that’s not the point. The policy is to fight police brutality cases tooth and nail. And punish the victim -- again.

Adding insult to injury, the City then taxes us for the extensive time spent by city attorneys on these cases. Should we stand back and let our tax dollars be spent like this? Wouldn’t that money be better spent preventing police brutality?

These behind-the-scenes policies are some of the chief culprits in the system. A lot of people don’t know they are there. But they are a driving force. Now, I don’t mean to say that the individual attorneys working for the City are wicked. I mean to attack the policy that they have no choice but to follow. I mean to take a look inside what is normally hidden. I mean to expose the way in which the City uses tax dollars to sanction and cover up police brutality.

My next series of articles will examine how our tax dollars are being spent on unnecessarily cruel legal services delivered by the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office. This applies to civil litigation in which a victim of police brutality is suing the City. But it also applies to the criminal system, where Minneapolis city attorneys are being used to prosecute victims of police brutality, hoping to take them down on crimes so that they will not be effective in their civil police brutality lawsuits. The system is deep, so my columns will be, too.

By John Tribbett
Minnesota Daily
May 9, 2003

I was sitting at my desk a few weekends ago in my South Minneapolis apartment when through my open window I heard the sound of a woman’s voice screaming in mild hysteria. It was a pitiful sound that was more guttural lament than a cry of physical pain. I looked out my window and saw two Minneapolis cops opening the driver-side door of a rusted-out car. The woman braced herself in the frame of the car door saying, “No, no, no!” The burly cops easily ripped her out into the street where she collapsed rubber-legged to the ground.

One of them stopped to point a menacing finger at the other three occupants in the vehicle and yelled, “Sit down.” The woman continued her wailing. The cops tried jerking her to her feet again but she just slithered to the ground by going limp. They then began yelling at her to stand up and shut up.

It was clear our city officials were becoming aggravated at her vocal Gandhi-style resistance. I ran to get my camera and jockeyed from window to window attempting to get a clear shot. It was impossible. The screams suddenly became silent and in their place a raspy screech began gasping out unintelligible sounds. I looked out the window, and anger and disgust kicked a gaping hole through my previously benign concern.

The two cops, each one nearly twice her size, had the black woman bent backwards over the hood of their squad car. One of them had both of his hands wrapped around the throat of the increasingly panicked woman. The police officer was facing the woman and choking her. They continued to yell at her to shut up. Her arms flailed uselessly at her sides while she continued to make sick wheezing sounds. At no time did I witness her make any motion to attack or strike out at the police.

I ran out of my apartment and snapped a few cautious shots from my stoop. Then I ventured to the curb kitty-corner from where the car was pulled over. A number of my neighbors were gathering outside to watch. One woman with hands on her hips and pursed lips asked me if I was using a video camera. “No,” I replied. “It’s just a digital still.” She shook her head and said, “Good enough. Get what you can.”

By this time they had managed to handcuff the frail woman as she sobbed uncontrollably. The bigger of the two cops hoisted her up and carried her upside down to the back of the squad car and wedged her into the backseat. The other cop began pulling the other three occupants, two women and a man, from the car. They remained calm as they were handcuffed and searched.

While this was going on, a boy of approximately eight years crossed the street and approached me. “My grandma wants to know if you took a picture of the police choking and bashing that lady’s head.”

“No, I didn’t. I couldn’t get that shot,” I said. He said “alright” and crossed back. A minute or so later I followed him and squatted down next to the grandmother who was positioned about 15 feet from were the cops were parked and were pulling items from the trunk of the car and searching through them. The woman was facing us in the backseat, crying and screaming periodically. The other three were seated on the curb in front of us talking in whispers. By this time two other squad cars had arrived and joined in the search.

At this point I snapped two more pictures, and as I was shooting a third, one of the original two cops looked up. “What the hell do you think you are doing?” he asked.

“I’m taking pictures,” I said.

“You can’t take pictures,” he said.

“Yes I can,” I replied.

“No you can’t,” he said much more forcefully and began walking toward me. His forehead was furled.

“Yes, I am press. I can take pictures.”

“If you are press,” he said now standing about five feet in front of me and looking down at me while staring straight into my eyes, “then you should know you can’t take pictures of probable suspects.”

“What statute says I can’t?” I asked.

“I don’t know what number it is. But you can’t,” he said.

Our eyes were locked and his partner now stopped his search and stood with his chest puffed out just behind him. I was 99 percent certain I had every right to be there, but I was getting wary about the situation.

“Look,” he said, still holding his stare, “if you take another picture I’m going to take your camera. Understand? If you respect me, I’ll respect you. If not, we can take it to the next level. Is that what you want to do?”

I have lived in South Minneapolis for the better part of the past decade and a half. I know what the next level entails. This was not the first time I witnessed police brutality. I am well aware of the crude force that often waits behind implied threats. I also know the futility of a pissing match with a pair of cops who hold all the power on a city street filled with everyday people who have little of the power.

I stopped taking the pictures. The 1 percent of uncertainty coupled with the potential of spending the weekend in a Hennepin County jail or having my butt kicked and my camera stolen or destroyed caused me to stop. I waited a few minutes and crossed the street to watch from a distance as they released the three on the curb and left with the woman who was now sitting silently in the back of the squad car. Apparently, they found a few rocks of crack cocaine and a bit of marijuana on her.

So what is this vignette about?

It could be a diatribe on the futility of the war on drugs or lead into an essay on the need to confront police brutality in a culture that increasingly scapegoats its least powerful citizens as the cause of social ills. It could be a rather poignant illustration of the erosion of civil liberties in the lives of everyday Americans held under grip of the George W. Bush administration or of the stifling of the rights of the press and private citizens. It could even be a piece sympathetic to the lives of street cops forced to uphold trivial laws in an environment of constant gunfire and hostility.

But let’s strip all of that away. Take away all of the academic, political and philosophical implications and see it for what it is. This was an average evening in Minneapolis. Nothing remarkable here. It was a routine and ordinary denial of human and civil rights conducted by those in authority in a typically brutal and threatening manner. It is life on the street.

Make of it what you will.

By the way, after talking with a defense attorney, a prominent media lawyer, a few professional photographers and professors at the University, I was assured I had every right to be there taking photos or even video images for that matter — as both a private citizen and a member of the press. There is a thing that guarantees it 100 percent. It’s called the First Amendment.

As for the brutality leveled against the woman, look under the Bill of Rights— I am sure you will find something relevant there that theoretically protects her from being brutalized. Better yet, try applying basic human dignity to the situation. In theory, that alone should have qualified her for humane treatment.
Communities United Against Police Brutality
2104 Stevens Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)

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