Second Minneapolis officer disciplined for conduct during civil unrest

By: - November 23, 2021 6:30 am

Minneapolis Police guard the Third Precinct on May 27 during protests following the police killing of George Floyd. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

A second Minneapolis police officer has been disciplined for misconduct in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. This one for failing to report his use of force — hitting two people with rubber bullets — three days after Floyd died.

The officer, Oscar Macias, was issued a written reprimand, the lowest level of discipline.

The case underscores how slow and inconsistent discipline is in the Minneapolis Police Department, even as the mayor and police chief promise swift, transformational change. 

So far, the only other officer to be disciplined for their behavior in the days after Floyd’s killing is Colleen Ryan, a female officer who spoke anonymously to a journalist about what she described as a toxic culture in the department. 

Meanwhile, the city currently faces over a dozen lawsuits alleging police brutality and misconduct during the protests and riots of 2020, including one by a woman who says Macias shot her in the face with a rubber bullet just two days after the incident that led to him receiving a letter of reprimand. 

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s Oct. 9 disciplinary decision is heavily redacted, but indicates three allegations were lodged against Macias, and one sustained. Under state law, records of complaints against cops are only public if they result in discipline.

Officers are required by MPD policy to document their use of force, including after firing rubber bullets, and while several officers documented firing rubber bullets during what Arradondo dubbed an “event,” Macias did not. 

Macias said he recalled writing reports each day at the end of his shifts, but wasn’t able to find this report, which he attributed to “computer issues,” according to Arradondo’s disciplinary report.  

MPD policy says officers should warn people before using rubber bullets, which shouldn’t be aimed at the head, neck, throat or chest “unless deadly force is justified” because they could cause “permanent physical or mental incapacity or possible death.”

After MPD violated its own policies while using such less-lethal weapons on protesters after the 2015 police killing of Jamar Clark and did not document their use, the U.S. Department of Justice recommended MPD strengthen its use-of-force policy and better train officers on it. 

But it was an issue again after Floyd’s killing, as police struggled to gain control of the city as protests, riots, looting and arson spread across the metro area. In the aftermath, the city’s Office of Police Conduct Review was swamped with police complaints, going from an average of 288 complaints per year since 2013 to 435 in 2020. But police misconduct complaints rarely result in discipline in Minneapolis.

Last year the city was hit with an avalanche of legal claims that could ultimately cost the city more than $111 million, the bulk of which can be traced back to 13 officer misconduct claims of $2 million or more each in the 15 days after Floyd’s killing. 

Arradondo, however, wrote in his decision that context is important in the Macias case. 

“I recognize that the civil unrest events taking place during this time placed extraordinary demands on officers who worked long hours over the course of many days under difficult and dangerous circumstances,” he wrote. 

And, he added, Macias “has a history of being recognized for exemplary work and a lack of prior discipline.” 

That echoes Arradondo’s recent reaction to the release of bodycam video showing his officers beating a man after he fired back at an unmarked van carrying MPD officers after they hit him with a rubber bullet without warning. 

After Jaleel Stallings was acquitted, the chief released a statement saying “context is important,” given the officers had just been through four days of rioting and the burning of the Third Precinct. 

Arradondo wrote that he doesn’t think Macias was trying to obscure his conduct, since he had his body-worn camera on during the incident and described his actions and reasoning “without apparent hesitation” during the investigation.

“This supports transparency and accountability which are critical for building and maintaining trust with the communities we serve,” Arradondo wrote. 

But two days later, on May 30, Macias allegedly hit a Minneapolis woman in the eye with a rubber bullet and his body camera was not on, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the woman against the city, Arradondo and Macias. 

Samantha Wright was protesting near East Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue when she was hit several times with rubber bullets, including in her left eye, without warning. 

According to her lawsuit, she got stitches on her eyebrow, her left eye’s orbital socket was shattered, she had bleeding in her eyeball and had a metal plate inserted in her face. Her pupil is now dilated permanently.

Her attorney, Timothy Phillips, said Macias’s bodycam video wasn’t on at the time he fired, but other video footage captured the incident.

Macias’ LinkedIn page says he’s worked for MPD since 2005, and city records show he had 13 prior complaints lodged against him, all closed with no discipline  — which can mean coaching, verbal correction or that no misconduct was found.

The ACLU has alleged in a lawsuit that MPD intentionally “coaches” cops for serious violations instead of disciplining them, which allows the records to be kept private. The city is fighting the release of coaching records.

Macias was also one of six Minneapolis police officers along with Derek Chauvin cleared of wrongdoing in the 2006 shooting death of Wayne Reyes. They responded to a report of a stabbing outside a pharmacy, a car chase ensued, and Reyes allegedly got out of his vehicle with a shotgun and was shot 23 times, according to media reports

Wright’s lawsuit alleges MPD has a “code of silence” that makes it highly unlikely officers will be disciplined for using excessive force on protesters. In another lawsuit from 2012, a judge found Macias violated a man’s Fourth Amendment rights by making an unlawful seizure and used excessive force, and the city settled the lawsuit, but Macias wasn’t disciplined.

The MPD spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.

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