Republican lawmakers blame Minneapolis leaders for scathing MPD report

Democratic lawmakers say it’s time for police to be held accountable

By: - May 18, 2022 1:15 pm

George Floyd’s fiancee Courteney Ross, testified before a joint hearing Tuesday at the State Capitol. Screenshot of livestream

Two state House committees held a joint hearing Tuesday to discuss a recent state report that found the Minneapolis Police Department has a pattern of discriminating against people based on their race.

Republicans laid blame at the feet of Minneapolis city officials — virtually all Democrats — while Democrats said it’s time to hold police accountable for misconduct.  

The hearing comes amid the final negotiations at the closely divided Legislature  over how to address crime, with Republicans seeking more money for police, and Democrats looking to try alternative approaches to public safety.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she was “super disappointed” that nobody from the city of Minneapolis showed up to the hearing to answer questions.

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, chair of the House Judiciary and Civil Law Committee, said Minneapolis city officials were invited to attend the hearing, but declined.

“Not one city council member could be here tonight? I have a hard time believing that,” Scott said, calling it an “injustice.”

About halfway through the nearly three-hour hearing, Minneapolis Council Member Jason Chavez showed up.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights released a scathing report last month that found MPD is more likely to pull over, cite, search, arrest and use force on people of color, particularly Black people. 

The committees invited community members to weigh in on the report, and most said most of the report’s contents were no surprise.

William C. Jordan, president of the Minnesota/Dakotas Area State Conference of the NAACP, said the report depicts a runaway, racist police department.

“The report is shocking, but sadly familiar,” he said.

George Floyd’s fiancée Courteney Ross said the report shows Floyd was murdered “because of his Black skin.”

During her testimony, she chastised lawmakers who appeared to be on their phones.

Addressing “anyone who’s distracted by their phone,” Ross, a teacher, said, “I do expect to be listened to.”

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota, said this is an opportunity for Minnesota to get back to being a leader in police oversight.

“We did not choose this burden to carry the legacy of the most recognized police brutality case in the world,” he said. “I believe this is a moment for our state to lead not only our nation but the world.”

Many citizens don’t report police misconduct, he said.

There’s also no independent review of complaints: A high-level MPD official told state investigators that the OPCR and Internal Affairs are “a house with two rooms.”

The state found the OPCR improperly investigates about half of misconduct complaints, and Internal Affairs improperly investigates about one-fourth of them. The state investigation also reports the police department takes too long to investigate complaints. On average, they take more 475 days from complaint to when a police chief issues a decision.

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said she’s been talking about these issues for 30 years, but still lawmakers have rebuffed suggested legislation.

Eric Rice, the defense attorney who represented Jaleel Stallings, also testified at the hearing. Stallings was charged with shooting at an MPD SWAT team after it shot him with 40-mm marking rounds with no warning, from an unmarked van, in the dark, as Stallings stood in a Lake Street parking lot five days after Floyd’s killing. Stallings was acquitted by a jury of eight charges, and the city recently agreed to pay him $1.5 million plus attorneys’ fees after he sued.

Rice said the report shows Stallings’ case isn’t an isolated incident.

“It’s kind of how things go in the system,” he said.

There can be a conflict of interest, too, because the city generally indemnifies officers when they commit misconduct. This means the city has less incentive to hold officers accountable because the discipline they impose could subject the city to legal liability. 

“So it’s not surprising that this lack of accountability exists,” Rice said. “To date, Jaleel was criminally prosecuted, he was scorned, he had his name dragged through the press. And today I know of no accountability that has happened to the officers.”

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, said the report shows “dangerous, racist, discriminatory, illegal and unconstitutional conduct” that makes it difficult to convict criminals. He said Minnesota was a leader when it developed the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, but has fallen behind, with no substantive changes in 50 years.

“It has chosen instead to handcuff its own ability to act,” Frazier said.

Justin Terrell, executive director for the Minnesota Justice Research Center, noted the POST Board recently passed draft rules that would give the board the power to take problem cops off the streets even if they’re not convicted of a crime or disciplined by their bosses.

“They’re transformative,” Terrell said of the new rules.

Changing police licensure rules is a long process, with a hearing before an administrative law judge expected this fall and many other steps before the rule could take effect next year.

Terrell criticized lawmakers for proposing increases in criminal penalties without passing laws to improve police accountability for misconduct.

“Trust me, I know violent crime is real and it hurts and it’s a struggle for families to deal with,” he said, noting he buried his cousin the day prior. “But we’re not talking about clearance rates for violent crime. We’re putting money over here to address recruitment, but we’re not talking about what the officers do once they’re recruited. This is insane.”

Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul, said as a prosecutor, he was appalled by the report, but especially shocked by a portion in which Hennepin County prosecutors said it can be difficult to rely on body-worn camera footage in court because MPD officers are so disrespectful and offensive to criminal suspects, witnesses and bystanders.

“We want to make sure that when we have somebody committing a crime and having a charge brought against them, that we can actually have that charge stick,” he said.

Republicans focused on blaming Minneapolis city leaders.

Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, pointed to the lack of city leadership in addressing issues, and suggested the policing problems don’t exist elsewhere in Minnesota.

“What’s going on in Minneapolis? Lack of leadership,” he said. “The city of Minneapolis failed their department and their citizens.”

Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, disputed that, noting that Philando Castile was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop. He said Black people are three times more likely to be stopped by police statewide.

“I don’t think we should pretend that racialized policing is a one-city problem,” he said.

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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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