5/2/2003 Newsletter


  • Fed Med City Council Meeting
  • Class Action Lawsuit
  • Internal Affairs and CRA Complaints
  • Strib: Two Men Shot In Altercation with Police In Minneapolis
  • Strib: Police Powers in Traffic Stops Curbed

We rarely advise people to watch the Minneapolis City Council in action on cable, unless they need help falling asleep. Yesterday's special session of the Public Safety and Regulatory Services (PS&RS) committee is a big exception.

The topic of yesterday's meeting was federal mediation. Yes, yes, we're as tired of the topic as you are. But PS&RS put a very new spin on things.

After the usual recitation by mediator Patricia Campbell Glenn that the feds are ready to go forward, and a cameo appearance by Chief "I was ready in December--NOT!" Olson, Zerby made a motion directing Olson to go forward (again) with mediation under the following conditions:

1) the community team consist of "credible" groups--he gave a list of groups, some of which don't actually exist and one which is actually an advisory committee to the mayor's office. CUAPB was on the list--dead last--apparently added as an afterthought.

2) no group or individual suing the city could be part of mediation

3) the mediation would only deal with race issues related to police policies and procedures--okay, that part sounds good on the surface but Zerby is a lawyer and he knows the devil is in the details. Most of the issues with police are not in their policies and procedures but with their PRACTICES. You can have all kinds of wonderful policies but if they aren't enforced and cops are making up rules on the fly, that's a real source of problems. Besides, issues with police are not just race-based. As Stepford council member Sandra Colvin-Roy (in a brief moment of clarity) pointed out, mentally ill folks also have issues with police. To this list, we would add homeless folks, poor folks, political activists and others.

After the Zerby motion, things got really interesting. There was a discussion of the status of our writ action (the legal action we filed to force Olson to the table) and, essentially, how that could be used to keep us out of mediation. It's so funny to be sitting in council chambers knowing they are talking all about us without using our names. We chimed in that we had, in fact, tried to drop the writ action as required but the city attorney refused to sign it. Not that we are interested in being any part of a sham mediation, but more on that in a minute.

HERE'S THE JUICY PART: Barb "Police-State" Johnson asked if there were "any thoughts on how to keep those people out" of mediation sessions. She and Colvin Roy talked about legal orders to keep people away, to which Zerby answered: "they're called restraining orders but we don't want to go there." There was then some discussion on the use of armed guards, putting police officers at the door, etc.--TO KEEP MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC OUT OF A MEDIATION SESSION ON POLICE BRUTALITY ISSUES.

You've got to see it to believe it! Our city council--elected by us and paid by our tax dollars--openly talking about using armed police officers to keep members of the public out of a meeting on police brutality issues. Mark yesterday on your calendar as the day the police-state officially landed at city hall.

They needn't have worried that any of us would try to bust into their little session, however. Based on other comments yesterday, it is clear that they've already cut a deal with certain groups. These are the same groups who are financially beholden to the city and who the community said they didn't trust to represent them. We can't see spending months in meetings with puppets of the city only to have it all go down the tubes later. We learned that lesson the hard way after wasting all last summer and fall on a failed attempt to revamp the CRA.

MEDIATION NO, LAWSUIT YES: We sincerely wish the best for people who choose to go the mediation route, and we hope they are able to bring some real change. However, we've seen enough about the credibility of the city side of the equation to have our doubts. We will be putting our energy and efforts into the multi-class class action federal lawsuit we filed on April 18th. There is plenty of room for you to play a role, too.

For this lawsuit to be successful, we will need a lot of help:
1) we need to locate and interview at least 23 members of each of the classes we have identified
2) we need to take affidavits from people in those classes and others (it's helpful if you are a notary, but not required)
3) we need to organize and catalog the data in a database
4) we will need about $10,000 for court filing costs, research, etc. (this does not include attorney fees, which are on a contingency basis)

This is the community's lawsuit and we need to take real ownership of it if we want real change. If you can spend even a few hours helping with the work or if you want to make a donation towards the costs, please call our hotline at 612-874-STOP.

G.R. Anderson promises a groundbreaking blog on the whole federal mediation issue today, with a full-blown story in next Wednesday's City Pages. Check out his blogs at http://babelogue.citypages.com:8080/granderson/

Beyond Mediation: Federal Lawsuit Will Expose The Truth
Spokesman Recorder
May 1, 2003
By: Pauline Thomas

Over the past eight months, members of the community struggled to get the Minneapolis City Council to approve federal mediation. The federal government has had to take action in a number of police departments around the country, because local governments are simply not solving the problems. Do you think the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) would volunteer to mediate here if there weren't significant issues? And yet the City Council seems to think this is about politics - about making sure they get elected next time. Many of them are afraid they won't be endorsed by the Police Federation in their next election.

As it turns out, the City was never in good faith about federal mediation. Community pressure forced the City Council to approve federal mediation in November, 2002, but Police Chief Robert Olson refused to obey the Council Resolution.

The DOJ had repeatedly told the City that it could not pick who sits on the community negotiating team. (Let's face it, that would be like North Korea dictating who could represent the U.S. in negotiations.) But the City would not play by the rules.

The almost five-month delay in starting mediation was caused by the City's insistence on picking who sits on the community team. It's easy to see why. The majority of the City Council never intended to make real change. They want a sham process. Just like the Civilian Review Authority (CRA) Redesign team, they want a sham process. They want the community team to consist of people they can manipulate, people who rely on City funds for their livelihood, or who are otherwise beholden to them. It's easy to see that such a "mediation" would not make real change.

Some members of the CNT called the City Council's bluff. We filed a lawsuit to get a Hennepin County judge to force Olson to the table. But rather than making Olson comply, the City Council defended him, and openly became part of the problem.

They passed a Resolution in March, saying that the lawsuit was keeping litigation from going forward. That's like saying that forcing the first car to start driving stops the parade. They demanded that the lawsuit be dismissed for federal mediation to move forward. They even tried to tell the DOJ what to do. The DOJ is not going to violate its own rules, just because the Minneapolis City Council wants it.

So we called their bluff again. We dismissed the lawsuit against Olson. But even as we did so, the council and mayor were proclaiming that federal mediation is dead. Clearly they were hoping to "blame" the demise of federal mediation on the CNT lawsuit. But when that was removed their true aim became clear - to kill federal mediation and have their own, sham process.

Tired of the games, we looked for another way to force change in the Minneapolis Police Department. On April 18 a class action lawsuit was filed in U. S. District Court. This new lawsuit gives the community an opportunity to tell the federal court about the pattern of abuse by Minneapolis police. It will show the pattern of illegal conduct by police: harassing people who criticize them; assaulting our people and then harassing them again when they complain; and refusing to investigate and discipline police misconduct.

Similar to a lawsuit currently pending in Chicago, this class action suit alleges that the Minneapolis Police Department actively helps to cover up crimes committed by police.

This lawsuit tells a story we know well in our community. A Black man was walking down the street. Just walking down the street, when he was viciously attacked by an on-duty police officer. The Officer stomped on his head until his eardrum broke. Then he opened a bottle of seltzer water and poured it into the injured ear. They left him lying on the sidewalk.

The man made a police report right away. But the officer was never prosecuted. Probably never even disciplined. This is a pattern in the Minneapolis Police Department. Cover up the brutality. Protect the abusers. Just look at what happened in the Chris Burns case. His death was ruled a homicide. Yet the police who killed him are being protected by the system.

The federal lawsuit will scrutinize these corruptions in the Minneapolis Police Department. So the work continues. Once again we renew our commitment to work for the victims of police brutality, and to prevent future abuses.

The federal lawsuit is a class action, and there is a possibility of many members of our community stepping up to be represented. In my next column I'll talk about how each and every member of our community can help to ensure that the Federal Court gets the real picture of what is happening to members of our community.

In addition to working on the lawsuit, we are also gathering info on complaints filed against police with Internal Affairs and the Civilian Review Authority (CRA). If you've looked at our website lately (www.charityadvantage.com/CUAPB), you'll see that we are posting these complaints on the site by police officer. We hope to eventually have every complaint for every officer listed so that you could just click on their name and read their history.

To do this, we need a desktop copier we can take with us to the IAD and CRA offices. If you have a copier we can borrow for a period of time, that would be great. We'll supply the paper and toner. If you can devote some time during the day at these offices copying records, that would be great, too. CUAPB is an all-volunteer organization and many of us work during the day when this work has to be done.

If you can help with a loaner copier or some of your time, please call us at 612-874-STOP.

2 Men Shot In Altercation with Police In Minneapolis
Terry Collins
Published May 2, 2003

Two men were shot and at least one was in police custody after the search of a north Minneapolis house Thursday afternoon.

They were treated at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, said Ron Reier, a Minneapolis police spokesman. He said their wounds were not life-threatening.

The shootings occurred shortly after 3 p.m. when the Anoka-Hennepin Drug Task Force called for a Minneapolis police emergency response unit entry team to help search a house in the 4700 block of Colfax Av. N., Reier said.

After determining that nobody was home, the team left, he said. Minutes later, a vehicle with two men arrived as a Drug Task Force officer stood nearby.

An officer apparently shot both men, who drove themselves to the hospital, Reier said. Police questioned them there and confirmed that they took at least one into custody. Their names have not been released.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office is investigating.

Police Powers in Traffic Stops Curbed
Pam Louwagie, Star Tribune
Published May 2, 2003

When police pull motorists over for speeding or other traffic infractions, they can't ask to search the car or question the driver and passengers about unrelated things such as illegal weapons or drugs without a reasonable suspicion that another crime is being committed, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Relying on protections under the state Constitution, the ruling expands protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, which has been interpreted to allow police to ask for searches while acknowledging that motorists can refuse.

Defense attorneys in the case called the ruling a major strike against racial profiling.

The defense attorneys argue that people of color are questioned and asked for searches more often than others during routine traffic stops, even if police have no particular reason.

"That's going to stop as of today," said Leonardo Castro, chief public defender in Hennepin County, whose office handled the case for a passenger in a car who was arrested by Minneapolis police on a drug charge. "Unless they can articulate . . . the reason why they're asking the question."

Castro called the ruling "probably the most significant civil rights decision for the state of Minnesota in the last 10 years" and said it will make a significant difference in people's everyday lives.

The eight-page decision doesn't point to racial profiling in its reasoning, however, and it is unclear how it will affect day-to-day police work.

"Law enforcement's going to have to take a hard look at it," said state Public Safety Commissioner Rich Stanek. He said there is no evidence that racial profiling takes place in Minnesota. As a state legislator from Maple Grove, Stanek worked on legislation that encouraged agencies to collect racial profiling data. That information is being analyzed, he said.

Peter Cahill, chief deputy Hennepin County attorney and one of the prosecutors on the case, said about the ruling: "I think when we get down to the details, we have to sort out what this all means for the cop on the street." More case law is sure to be developed on the legality of searches, he said.

Because the ruling is based on the Minnesota Constitution, it cannot be appealed, Cahill said. He said attorneys in his office had hoped that the state Supreme Court would stay consistent with federal decisions that say it's OK for police to ask motorists for consent to search as long as the search is voluntary.

"We think that the federal Constitution had a well-settled, well-established standard that courts have been applying for years," Cahill said.

He said he and his colleagues weren't surprised by Thursday's ruling because it was consistent with one last year that looked at a similar stop in which police brought in a drug-sniffing dog.

Defense attorneys say Thursday's ruling is far more significant because drug dogs aren't often used, and the facts of the case decided Thursday were more common.

The ruling came in the case against Mustafaa Naji Fort, who was an 18-year-old passenger in a car that was pulled over for speeding and a cracked windshield in March 2001.

An officer asked for consent to search Fort, who is black, and found lumps of cocaine in his pocket. Fort's attorneys argued that the drug evidence should have been suppressed because the search was improper. They argued that police officers may not justify a request for a search unless there is a valid, race-neutral reason to suspect wrongdoing.

Police don't need consent to search if they have "probable cause" -- that is, they think there is a fair probability that a crime other than the traffic violation is being committed. But before the Supreme Court ruling, if they had limited or no evidence of a crime, they needed consent to search. People were under no obligation to agree, but most did, experts say.

The ruling, written by Justice Alan Page, was careful to leave intact an officer's ability to search out of concern for the officer's safety. If officers suspect that a person may be carrying weapons and putting police in danger, they can conduct a cursory pat search.

Jim Kamin, first assistant Hennepin County public defender, said at least nine other states have made rulings in the same spirit as the Minnesota Supreme Court's, with New Jersey giving as much protection as Minnesota now does.

The decision shows that the Minnesota high court is "beginning to distinguish itself by applying the Minnesota Constitution in a way that is more protective of individual liberties than the federal Constitution would require," said Peter Erlinder, professor of criminal constitutional law at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. He said the ruling might help protect police from accusations of racial profiling.

Pam Louwagie is at [email protected].

Communities United Against Police Brutality
2104 Stevens Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)

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