Six months after court order, Minneapolis has yet to publish any police disciplinary decisions

Minneapolis City Hall. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Following the police killing of George Floyd, the city of Minneapolis entered into an agreement with the state’s Department of Human Rights to reduce police abuses and increase transparency of the department’s disciplinary actions.

But more than six months after the order took effect, the city has not yet acted on a key provision: Alerting the public to cases of police misconduct by posting disciplinary decisions to its website.

Through a spokeswoman, the city attorney’s office said there are not yet any disciplinary decisions that must be posted online under the order, which took effect June 8.

It’s not that the police chief hasn’t issued any discipline. Since the court order took effect, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has made decisions on 66 cases dating back to 2019, according to spokesman John Elder.

But the city says none of them must be posted either because the city’s disciplinary panel made its recommendation before the court order or because the case is being challenged by the union and is not yet public. The city did not say how many cases are being challenged by the union. In 2019, the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation filed 13 grievances against disciplinary actions. In 2018, they filed six.

The lack of publicly accessible decisions on police misconduct reflects both the glacial pace at which the department handles discipline and its tendency to delay providing public information.

The Reformer recently reviewed 195 disciplinary cases from the Minneapolis Police Department, which were only obtained through a lengthy and on-going lawsuit. The files reveal substantial delays at every step of the disciplinary process, with cases dragging on for an average of 539 days. Data provided by the city this month show there are currently open complaints dating back as far as 2015. Disciplinary cases also stall when police officers are on leave, as more than 100 currently are.

The court order related to the Department of Human Rights’ investigation into the police department speeds up one piece of the process by requiring the chief to make disciplinary decisions within 30 days of receiving a recommendation from the city’s police conduct review panel.

“The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is in constant communication with the city on the (court order) to ensure compliance across the board,” said Commissioner Rebecca Lucero. “When we do identify any concerns we are following up, asking questions and investigating as appropriate.”

Should Lucero find the city is not complying with any provision of the order — which also includes a ban on chokeholds and requires officers to physically intervene if they witness excessive force — she can bring it before the Hennepin County District Court, which is in charge of enforcing the agreement.

The lack of publicly accessible disciplinary decisions may comply with the letter of the law if not its spirit.

The rules were championed by Mayor Jacob Frey along with city officials as illustrative of their commitment to increasing transparency in the notoriously secretive department in the wake of Floyd’s death.

In that spirit, the city could post disciplinary decisions in completed cases regardless of when the disciplinary panel made its recommendation — they are public records. And the chief will be required to post his decisions on cases going forward, even after the court order expires, since it’s been adopted as a city ordinance.

The city’s critics — including on the City Council — say choosing not to post any recent disciplinary decisions is a sign of continued bureaucratic resistance to change.

“This doesn’t surprise me although it is very disappointing,” Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said, noting that the mayor, not the City Council, controls the police department. “Why would we be playing any of this close to the vest if we can put this information out there? I only see benefits to being as transparent and forthcoming as possible.”

Even when the city does begin posting disciplinary decisions, it may not include all cases. The city ordinance and court order only require decisions to be posted in cases where the Office of Police Conduct Review made a recommendation, and not all disciplinary actions do so. Some come from the police department’s internal affairs unit. By the city’s interpretation of the court order with the state Department of Human Rights, those cases may continue to be obscured from public view.

Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.