6/9/2008 Newsletter

Contents:

  • Community Report on Internal Affairs Audit
  • The CRA Board that Almost Wasn't
  • Efforts to Overturn Lurking Ordinance Continue
  • Famine! Pestilence! Plague! and Other Excuses City Council Using to Clamp Down on Free Speech
  • Free Speech Violations Already Starting in St. Paul
  • Police State Update: DC Cops Blockade Whole Neighborhood
  • Major Victory in Taser Case

COMMUNITY REPORT ON MINNEAPOLIS INTERNAL AFFAIRS AUDIT

Monday, June 16th, 6-8pm at the Minneapolis Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Avenue N;
Tuesday, June 17th, 6-8pm at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, 2501 Stevens Avenue S.

In its "comprehensive assessment" PERF has failed to contact a number of community organizations such as CUAPB. Therefore, these meetings appear to be the only venue for people to have input into this audit. The announcement below is from Cam Gordon's newsletter to his constituents:

The Minneapolis Police Department contracted with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the department’s internal affairs operations and practices. PERF is examining each component in the internal investigation process of police misconduct and complaints for both effectiveness and efficiency. As part of its assessment, PERF will facilitate two public forums to hear directly from the community their personal experiences with the department’s Internal Affairs Unit. The meetings will be facilitated by PERF staff and no members of the Minneapolis Police Department will be in attendance.


THE CRA BOARD THAT ALMOST WASN'T
And the Huge Workload Ahead

With the resignations of 9 of 11 board members last December, the Minneapolis Civilian Review Authority board all but ceased to function. No hearings have been held since November 2007. The April and May board meetings were cancelled.

Despite this, the city council dragged its feet to fill the board slots. The application process was extended three times due to lack of applicants. Finally, in April, the city managed to get a pool of 16 people interested in the 9 open slots. That's when things got really interesting. The city council held a public hearing on May 2 on the applicants. Some of the applicants didn't bother to show. Consequently, the list was whittled down to 9 and those applicants were approved and the finished list sent off to the mayor for approval. One of the names on that list was long time community activist, former city council candidate and CUAPB supporter Dave Bicking. We were, of course, delighted that Dave would be joining the CRA board. However, before we could break out the party hats and noisemakers, a little back room action almost put a stop to our celebration.

At a May 7th public hearing on the so-called free speech proposal, Dave made the mistake of thinking he could exercise his right to free speech by speaking out against the proposal. Boy, was he wrong! Rumor has it that council president Barb Johnson finally put two and two together about who this Dave Bicking character was and while he was speaking, she scurried into the mayor's office. The scuttle is that the mayor had the proposed list of names on his desk with a big ol' check mark in the APPROVED box and that upon the advice of Prez Johnson, he whited out his check mark and marked the VETOED box instead. He then sent his veto on to the council.

One of the rules of the council is that the mayor has to submit a letter explaining any veto. In this case, RT submitted his veto the day it was due but did not submit the letter until a day later. In the letter he implied that he was vetoing the list because he had concerns that at least one of the appointees would not be objective. While Dave was never named, it was obvious RT was talking about him. Dave began to make contact with city council members and even the mayor to assure them he would be neutral and fair. However, it turned out that all that effort was hardly necessary. By failing to submit his letter at the same time as the veto, the mayor had made a procedural error that invalidated his veto. Thus, the CRA board that almost wasn't was finally able to be seated in time for their June 4th board meeting.

And not a moment too soon. As of June 4th, 49 complaints are awaiting panel hearings by the board. This represents months worth of work, so this new board starts off in the hole. And it will get worse before it gets better as these new board members will have to be trained before they can hold hearings PLUS the subjects of any hearings must be given 30 days notice, meaning hearings won't start again until July. Because of foot dragging by the city council, complaints received long ago will finally be dealt with months from now. However, don't look for too much out of this. Previously, Dolan used the fact that it took too long for sustained CRA complaints to come to him as an excuse for not disciplining those complaints. Our bet is he'll use that excuse again to blow off whatever the CRA sends him.

One piece of "good" news, if you can call it that, is the community won't exactly be overwhelming the CRA board with new complaints. Only one signed complaint was received in the month of May and investigators with the CRA only completed 4 investigations last month.

Perhaps most appalling of all--and no fault of the new board--is the amount of unfinished business by the previous board. Once board members hold hearings, they have to write up their determinations. There are currently 11 determinations waiting to be written: 5 from hearings held in 2007 and 6 from hearings held in 2006! Truly in these cases, justice delayed is justice denied.

Apparently it's not just the old board that is screwing around. As of June 4th, there are 57 cases in investigation with one from 2005 and 3 from 2006--and these are the years the cases were reported to the CRA. It boggles the mind that these cases could still be open. We know the CRA is underfunded but honestly, they have got to do better.

And, finally, there is Chief Dolan, who will use any excuse to avoid holding his officers accountable. He currently has 4 sustained complaints awaiting discipline sitting on his desk gathering dust. While the report from CRA manager Lee Reid doesn't make it clear when Dolan received these reports, since no hearings have been held since November it's a safe bet those files are propping up a half-dead plant or police benevolent league bowling trophy. Although the ordinance requires the chief to make a disciplinary decision in a timely manner (defined as either 30 days or 60 days) and report the reasons for disciplinary decisions to the CRA board, the last two chiefs have flat refused to follow the ordinance and the city council has failed to hold their feet to the fire.

It's a tragedy that the one agency in the city charged with dealing with complaints of police misconduct is so sloppy and so underfunded, especially given the extensive resources constantly put into revamping it. Perhaps if the city would take those same funds and put them into hiring enough investigators, staffing the outreach position mandated in the ordinance, and allowing the agency to hire an independent attorney outside of the city attorney's office (with its bias toward reducing liability rather than representing the interests of the CRA) they could then be able to hold the CRA staff and board accountable for promised results. That would mean, of course, they could also hold the police chief accountable for disciplining his wayward officers--something this city council is especially reluctant to do.

They might not have a choice. With upcoming RNC protests promising a bumper crop of police brutality complaints, this agency had better get its act together--and fast--or the city council will be feeling some heat from the bruised and battered masses of community members with no outlet for our complaints.

Best wishes to the new CRA board members. We hope they have a productive and fulfilling experience serving on the board. But they certainly have their work cut out for them.


EFFORTS TO OVERTURN LURKING ORDINANCE CONTINUE

Public Hearing Continued
Wednesday, June 11
1:00 p.m.
Minneapolis City Hall, Rm 317

The Minneapolis city council's PS&RS committee certainly got an earful from a packed room of constituents over the lurking ordinance. Most speakers represented social justice organizations like CUAPB but others represented shelters or were homeless people themselves who have been targeted by the ordinance. There were so many people present that the committee has held over the public hearing to this Wednesday, June 11th. There does seem to be some interest in overturning the ordinance--the committee members weren't as openly hostile to the public as they usually tend to be.

The proposal on the table involves strengthening the loitering ordinance as a way to pacify police. CUAPB does not support this position as we find that homeless folks don't care one whit which ordinance is used to harass them. We want to see the lurking ordinance overturned outright. In that regard, a number of organizations met last week to develop a strategy for circumventing council action by using the legal system to get rid of the lurking ordinance. This strategy is in the early stages but already shows a lot of promise. CUAPB's extensive film footage of incidents at the shelters may well play a pivotal role. We're excited to be a part of this new initiative and will report more about it in future newsletters.


FAMINE! PESTILENCE! PLAGUE!...AND THE RNC
Excuses Used by Ostrow, Samuels to Clamp Down on Free Speech

Sounding much like John Ashcroft pushing his Patriot Act (and we all know what a disaster that was), Minneapolis city council members Paul Ostrow and Don Samuels spent much of the time during the May 21 public hearing on the so-called free speech proposal rationalizing their reasons behind it. Ostrow kept wringing his hands and explaining that "we've never had anything that big here before," referring to the RNC. However, he could not explain why he wants the free speech restrictions to be permanent. After going around and around with Cam Gordon and Gary Schiff, who tried in vain to improve his flawed proposal, Ostrow was helped out by fellow free speech hater Samuels (recall that Samuels and Ostrow were successfully sued by Al Flowers for kicking him off public access TV after he criticized Samuels). In what will likely be among the most bizarre moments at city hall this year, Samuels began wailing about how this is a fundamentally different time we're living in. Citing war, abortion and a host of other social and political issues (and sounding like a fire and brimstone minister or a head case who forgot to take his meds), Samuels expressed the view that we're on the eve of societal destruction unless we control the possibility of demonstrations by people on both sides of the issues. A crazy thought, really, when you realize the First Amendment is about making space for all views to be heard. In the end, Gordon and Schiff did their level best but could not talk sense into Ostrow and Samuels, who were joined by Ralph Remington (shame on you, Ralph!) and by Diane Hofstede, who awoke periodically from her stupor to vote (we're not kidding about this--she kept voting the "wrong" way until Ostrow told her how to vote! It looked like an old rerun of George Burns and Gracie Allen). The anti-free speech free speech proposal was send forward to the full city council.

The city council took up this proposal at their June 6th meeting. We assumed it would be a slam dunk and that we would just have to sue the city to get rid of this bad idea. But, alas, the council gave us a bit of a surprise. Apparently, a few people think more highly of the First Amendment than we suspected. The issue became so contentious that it has been held over to the next council meeting on June 20th. We will have a full report on the last council meeting by a guest columnist in the next newsletter and we'll continue to follow the story as it develops. Stay tuned.


And in St. Paul, the free speech violations start already. Apparently XCel management thinks they own the sidewalks, too...

ST PAUL POLICE TO APOLOGIZE FOR DETAINING ANTIWAR ACTIVIST

http://www.startribune.com/
By PAT PHEIFER and RANDY FURST, Star Tribune
Last update: June 5, 2008 - 9:49 PM

St. Paul police said Thursday that they will apologize to an antiwar organizer who was detained Tuesday outside the Obama campaign rally at the Xcel Energy Center for handing out leaflets promoting a Sept. 1 march on the Republican National Convention.

The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said the arrest of Mick Kelly, 50, of Minneapolis, does not augur well for the way authorities will treat protesters during the convention.

"We're concerned the police so quickly violated Mick Kelly's First Amendment rights," Charles Samuelson said.

Mayor Chris Coleman said Thursday that he did not think the arrest presages anything about how convention protests will go. "It just says we need to educate our officers," he said. "The First Amendment is a core value of me as mayor and [John] Harrington as [police] chief.

Coleman praised police for moving quickly "to correct what was a mistake." He added, "We are going to move quickly to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Tom Walsh, a St. Paul police spokesman, said police initially believed that Kelly's leaflet distribution was in violation of an ordinance that prohibits peddling within a certain distance of the Xcel Center.

"But it's not," he said. "It's a free speech issue. He wasn't selling or vending, so in this case he was within his rights."

The citation will be dismissed, Walsh said, and the event commander, Cmdr. Joe Neuberger, will apologize to Kelly. Walsh said free speech issues will be part of the training officers receive for the convention. That training has begun but has not been completed, he said.

Walsh said there were no other arrests at the event. Peddlers (who had been selling campaign souvenirs) who were within the radius of the ordinance were asked to move and did, he said.

"It was an impromptu event," Walsh said. "A limited amount of resources were available. ... The safety and security of people attending the event was our priority."

Jack Larson, vice president and general manager of the Xcel Center, said he thought the ordinance barred leafleting on the Xcel sidewalks, but learned Thursday that it referred only to peddling.

If it happens again, he said, he might ask police to check to make sure the leafleteers were not peddling.

Coordinating activists

Kelly, a member of the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, was coordinating five activists who handed out 3,000 fliers to supporters of Barack Obama. Xcel security told him that he could not leaflet in front of the Xcel, and when he continued, police were called.

Kelly said police officers told him to leave. "I said, 'That's not right. I don't have to leave. I'll continue leafleting.'"

He said he was put in a police car, driven about 10 blocks, issued a citation and released. He said he hurried back to the Xcel to hand out more fliers.

Kelly's arrest was witnessed by Teresa Nelson, an ACLU attorney who fired off an e-mail to the St. Paul city attorney's office, protesting the arrest.

The city attorney's office referred a reporter's questions about the ordinance Thursday to Bob Kessler, St. Paul's director of safety and inspections. Kessler said the ordinance was designed to stop ticket scalpers who were creating congestion.

Kelly is part of a group that objects to the route the police gave for the Sept. 1 antiwar march to the Xcel.

"I'm angry because we have the right to speak out against the war," he said. "The city's talk about all of St. Paul being a free speech zone is a joke."


POLICE STATE UPDATE: DC Cops Blockade Whole Neighborhood

In a move reminiscent of the pass system under South African apartheid, the Washington Post reported that DC cops have initiated checkpoints for people going into certain neighborhoods. The original article is here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/04/AR2008060402205.html

The checkpoints, which started this past weekend, involve cops systematically stopping every vehicle entering the Trinidad neighborhood, checking drivers' licenses and other identification and questioning whether vehicle occupants have a "legitimate purpose" to be in the area. "Legitimate purposes" include health care appointments, attending church or visiting friends or relatives. All other drivers are being turned away. The Trinidad neighborhood has recently experienced increased levels of violence and property crimes.

"In certain areas, we need to go beyond the normal methods of policing," DC's mayor Adrian Fenty claimed at a news conference announcing the action. "We're going to go into an area and completely shut it down to prevent shootings and the sale of drugs."

Not only will police stop vehicles at checkpoints, but they will search cars if they suspect the presence of guns or drugs, and will arrest people who do not cooperate, under a charge of failure to obey a police officer, officials said. Apparently, the 4th Amendment no longer applies in the Trinidad neighborhood.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it will be closely watching and that legal action is likely. "My reaction is, welcome to Baghdad, D.C.," said Arthur Spitzer, legal director for the ACLU's Washington office. "I mean, this is craziness. In this country, you don't have to show identification or explain to the police why you want to travel down a public street."

Residents expressed concerns about the "special treatment" they are being subjected to, especially since police have made no efforts to form relationships that would be more effective in addressing public safety. "I knew eventually we'd be a police state," said Wilhelmina Lawson, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years. "They don't talk to us, they're not community minded." Other proposals by DC police call for going door to door in low income neighborhoods and coercing residents to allow their homes to be searched for guns.

Members of the community who monitored checkpoints over the weekend reported tonight that 9 out of every 10 cars was turned back, even when valid reasons were given.

These kinds of police state measures are gross violations of people's civil liberties and violate the UN Human Rights Declaration. This dangerous notion of blocking off whole neighborhoods with checkpoints originated in New York City--a virtual laboratory of reactionary police tactics--and is now spreading to other cities. We will have to be on guard to prevent such tactics from taking hold in our own area, especially as crime, the economy and even the presence of the RNC are used as excuses to import them here.


MAJOR VICTORY IN TASER CASE

NOTE: To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time Taser International has been held liable for a death after use of their product.

Taser held responsible in Salinas death
Jury awards $6 million to family
By JIM JOHNSON
Herald Salinas Bureau
06/07/2008

A federal jury has held Taser International responsible for the death of a Salinas man in U.S. District Court in San Jose on Friday, and awarded his family more than $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages. An attorney for the family called the verdict a "landmark decision ," and indicated that it was the first time Taser International had been held responsible for a death or injury linked to its product.

But the jury exonerated Salinas police, including four officers, in the death of 40-year-old Robert Heston Jr. on Feb. 20, 2005. Heston died a day after being shocked repeatedly by officers using Tasers. An autopsy found that Heston died from a combination of methamphetamine intoxication, an enlarged heart due to long-term drug abuse, and Taser shocks.

Heston's parents, Betty Lou and Robert Sr., and their daughter sued Taser International. They alleged the company failed to properly warn users that its product could be dangerous, and even lethal, when used repeatedly in conjunction with chest compressions and on people under the influence of drugs.

The family alleged wrongful death, assault and battery, and negligence in their suit against the Salinas Police Department and officers Juan Ruiz, James Godwin, Lek Livingston and Michael Dominici.

The six-person jury found that Arizona-based stun-gun manufacturer Taser International should have more effectively warned police that Taser shocks were potentially dangerous.

Salinas police testified during the trial that they were not warned that the shocks could be dangerous.

A possible precedent

Plaintiffs attorney John Burton said the verdict is precedent setting, noting that this was the first time a jury found Tasers are dangerous when used too often. "We're overjoyed," Burton said.

According to Burton, the verdict included $5.2 million in punitive damages, and $1.021 million in compensatory damages.

The jury found that the victim was 85 percent at fault, resulting in an apportioned final damages award.

Co-counsel Peter Williamson said the Heston family was "absolutely overwhelmed and extremely proud that they stood up for their son and brother."

Williamson said he spoke to three jurors, including the jury foreman, after the decision. He said the jury agreed with the "crux of our case ," that Taser International should have made more of an effort to warn people about their product once they realized it was potentially dangerous, perhaps even e-mailing all its customers. "They should have sent out a warning and they didn't," he said.

Burton said he still believes Salinas police should have been held accountable, but understood the jury's rationale. "Taser continued to say their product was safe," he said.

City Attorney Vanessa Vallarta said in a statement, "We are pleased and relieved by the verdict. This is a sad and tragic case. The jury affirmed that our officers did exactly what they were trained to do in the course of a very violent episode."

Contacted later by phone, Vallarta said the verdict "certainly raises questions" about the use of Tasers and the city would be evaluating their use. The decision "does put the state of the law somewhat in flux on this," she said. "In light of current scientific evidence, there may be a need for a change in procedures."

No big changes planned

Salinas Police Chief Daniel Ortega said his department wouldn't make any major changes in its Taser use and training procedures, despite the verdict finding that Tasers can be dangerous.

Ortega said he was "elated" that his department was exonerated and called his officers "heroes" in the incident.

He expressed doubt about the verdict against Taser International and said he expected the company to appeal the decision. "I have absolutely no intention of not using Tasers," Ortega said. "It's not going to change a whole lot."

Ortega said he would keep trying to purchase Taser cams, which videotape incidents when Tasers are used, and suggested that if the officers had been equipped with the Taser cams the trial never would have occurred.

Salinas police responded to Heston Sr.'s Rodeo Avenue home in 2005 after a friend called 911 to report that Heston Jr. was behaving violently.

In an attempt to subdue agitated Heston Jr., who was later found to have high levels of methamphetamine in his system, officers shocked him repeatedly with Tasers. Some shocks were administered after Heston Jr. was held down by several officers. When Heston Jr. began turning blue, the officers started CPR and he was raced to Natividad Medical Center. But he never regained consciousness and died the next day. Burton contended that Heston Jr. was shocked 30 times. Taser International representatives did not offer comment on the decision.


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