Audit: Minneapolis leaders didn’t follow emergency plans during George Floyd protests

By: - March 8, 2022 6:07 pm

Former Minneapolis police officer Justin Stetson stands guard over the Third Police Precinct on May 27, 2020, during protests of George Floyd’s killing. Photo by Chad Davis.

The Minneapolis City Council received a long-anticipated “after action review” from independent auditors on Tuesday that presents a damning picture of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and then-Police Chief Medaria Arradondo’s numerous failures to maintain safety and order in the days following the police murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.

The report’s authors say the mayor and police chief failed to implement the city’s emergency plans or give officers clear guidance and instructions on how to respond to widespread protests and riots — including when and how to use rubber bullets and chemical irritants for crowd control.

Minneapolis leaders also didn’t create a unified command structure or do any formal planning amid the civil unrest, and instead allowed their response to the chaos to develop “organically,” according to the report.

“There was a vast, vast void in consistent rules of engagement or control,” Chad McGinty, an author of the report and former major for the Ohio State Highway Patrol, told City Council members on Tuesday.

The report comes nearly two years after former officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, sparking protests across the world and igniting riots in the city. The city’s haphazard response left city residents to band together on their own to protect homes and businesses as buildings around them were set ablaze.

To this day, the city shows scars of the arson, including the Third Police Precinct Police Station, which has remained burned out and boarded up since police surrendered it to rioters. At the same time, the city is still paying out large settlements to journalists and protesters who were injured by law enforcement. The city has also struggled to attract and retain officers, with more than a third of officers leaving the force since Floyd’s death.

The City Council commissioned the independent audit in February 2021, paying the risk management company Jensen Hughes $230,000 to review the city’s response to unrest in the 10 days after Floyd’s death. The group, which was largely made up of veteran law enforcement officers, provided an 86-page report that includes 27 recommendations for improvements.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and then-Police Chief Medaria Arradondo did not follow the city’s emergency response plans.
  • Police supervisors and officers were not given clear instructions on when to use rubber bullets and tear gas.
  • Frey and Arradondo did not institute a clear command structure and adhere to the principles of “Incident Command System” and instead used an “ad hoc command structure.”
  • Frey, Arradondo and other police leaders did not formally plan their response amid the unrest, instead making decisions on the fly.
  • Frey and Arradondo didn’t consult the Office of Emergency Management to find out how to request National Guard soldiers, delaying their arrival.
  • The Minneapolis Police Department did not have a plan on how to arrest numerous people or process arrestees in a timely way.
  • The Minneapolis Police Department did not provide additional resources to Internal Affairs to investigate a surge of misconduct complaints.

In conducting their audit, the group interviewed nearly 90 police, fire and government officials, watched about 35 hours of body camera footage and heard from over 100 residents through community listening sessions and focus groups. They also reviewed over 2,400 pages of documents and visited areas of the city where significant events took place.

The report represents the first comprehensive audit of one of the most significant breakdowns in social order in the city’s history. As the authors note, neither the Minneapolis Police Department nor the Minneapolis Fire Department did their own after-action reports.

Despite widespread misconduct, few officers have been disciplined. The report states the officers they interviewed said the department did not have sufficient resources to investigate police misconduct complaints even before Floyd’s death and investigators didn’t receive more resources to handle the swell of complaints that followed in May and June 2020.

The authors don’t blame any individuals but their findings represent an indictment against Frey and Arradondo with one of the sections of the report titled “Leadership Issues.”

“While the level of protests and violence was unprecedented, better planning, organization, communications, and adherence to command and control principles would have led to a better response,” Robert Boehmer, an author of the report and former Chicago police officer, told City Council members.

Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah was more blunt: “This report made it crystal clear to me that at city hall, our failures were not structural failures, they were actually failures of leadership.”

Frey’s office issued a statement on Tuesday in response to the report’s release, saying they welcome the group’s recommendations.

“Rebuilding trust between community and local government relies on us taking concrete actions informed by this review’s recommendations,” Frey said. “As we dig into the findings, I remain grateful to city staff who worked around the clock, navigating a global pandemic, during one of the most challenging and traumatic times for Minneapolis as a city.”

Wonsley Worlobah’s predecessor, former Council Member Cam Gordon, bemoaned the timing of the report, saying the report should have been completed before the November election, in which voters reelected Frey, gave more power to his office and rejected a ballot initiative to replace the police department.

“The city response was terrible,” Gordon tweeted. “We failed to follow any of our own approved plans and policies. The oversight was absolutely inadequate.”

In the days after Floyd’s killings, journalists asked if Frey and Arradondo had control of their officers or if the chain of command was broken. While the report’s authors do not answer that question directly, they do say the body camera footage they reviewed showed a lack of oversight by police leaders.

“The footage clearly revealed in some circumstances the lack of MPD command oversight, clear objectives, coordinated crowd-control measures and accountability for the deployment of less-lethal munitions,” the report reads.

As for planning, according to the report, MPD leadership only began to engage in formal planning when they were joined by state and federal agencies at a “Multi-Agency Coordination Center.” But even then, the police department maintained a command post at another location which “created a separate layer of quasi-command” and confused its law enforcement partners.

The lack of leadership was apparent in a letter former Minneapolis Police Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll sent to officers in which he blasted the mayor for a lack of leadership and revealed an apparent plan to work with the Republican-controlled Senate to take over the National Guard.

The report addressed who was to blame for the delayed arrival of National Guard soldiers to restore order in the city. Frey has blamed Gov. Tim Walz for failing to take his requests for help seriously, while Walz said Frey did not provide the necessary information for him to activate the National Guard.

The authors of the report say city officials didn’t follow the necessary protocols to request assistance because the process “was unfamiliar to those making the requests.”

“Had the Mayor or the MPD consulted the (Office of Emergency Management), the OEM could have assisted with a more detailed request and potentially minimize the delay in deployment,” the report reads.

The report’s authors noted that Arradondo, who has since retired, was popular among residents — even among people who didn’t trust the police department and felt abandoned by city leaders in the days after Floyd’s death.

“Pretty much everybody we talked to loved (Arradondo,)” Boehmer said. “The concerns that people expressed was that what they heard from the chief as far as his vision… did not translate down to the rank-and-file.”

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, 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.