Protesters are shot with pepper spray as they confront police outside the Third Police Precinct on May 27, 2020. The city has settled a wave of workers’ comp cases with police officers since the murder of George Floyd. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.
Even after Dustin Dupre was arrested in 2003 for assaulting his ex-wife, he kept his job as a Minneapolis police officer.
Even after he was charged with puncturing a woman’s tire outside a Target in Cottage Grove in 2017 in a fit of road rage, he kept his job.
He persisted through at least six misconduct complaints — three sustained.
And even after being fired by former Police Chief Medaria Arradondo in 2019, Dupre got his job back with the help of his police union.
None of that ended his career, until last year, when after 23 years, he left the department with a $175,000 workers’ compensation settlement from the city.
Dupre is one of 139 Minneapolis cops with misconduct complaints out of 144 who have received workers’ compensation settlements since George Floyd was killed by police two years ago. And they’re getting six-figure settlements on their way out the door.
Reached by phone, Dupre declined to comment.
Since Floyd’s murder, the city of Minneapolis has paid more than $22.2 million in workers’ comp settlements to police officers, according to city records reviewed by the Reformer.
Employees who retire early due to a disability can get paid 60% of their salary tax-free until age 55. The state is paying more than $875,000 per month in these disability pensions to 169 former Minneapolis police officers who’ve retired since Floyd’s murder.
About 80% of Minneapolis officers sought disability pensions due to post-traumatic stress syndrome, according to the Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association.
Roughly 96% of the Minneapolis cops who have received workers’ compensation settlements had misconduct complaints filed against them, but just one-third third of those had a complaint sustained. But that’s not unusual. Most misconduct complaints are dismissed or closed, even in cases where the city settled lawsuits or the officers were convicted of crimes in connection with the complaints. A 2020 Reformer investigation found that the department is slow to investigate complaints and mete out sanctions, even when officers are credibly accused of serious wrongdoing.
Workers’ comp settlements have gone to an officer with 10 sustained complaints; an officer accused of tasing a pregnant woman; and another who was accused of fondling a masseuse while working undercover during a prostitution investigation.
The workers’ comp settlements are part of a massive wave of resignations and retirements, reducing MPD’s head count by about 300 officers and leading to a surge in overtime spending.
Some elected officials are disturbed that open investigations and complaints are effectively swept under the rug when an officer leaves the department.
Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, said a number of MPD officers with pending discipline have retired early due to a disability, which short-circuits the disciplinary process.
Last year, 52 officers with pending complaints left the city, compared to 16 in 2020 and four in 2019. Once an officer leaves, the cases are closed with no discipline.
“If a disability determination is made before there’s a decision on discipline, that’s problematic,” Long said. “I think if there’s a disciplinary proceeding, that should proceed separately from any determination about an officer’s ability to work.”
He sponsored legislation this year that would require officers to get treatment for PTSD in order to get workers’ compensation benefits or apply for state disability pensions. The session ended without the bill passing.
In 2019, state law was amended to say if a public safety worker is diagnosed with PTSD, it’s presumed to be job-related with regard to workers’ compensation benefits.
Police advocates and workers’ comp attorneys say years of traumatic police work combined with the trauma of the Floyd aftermath combined to drive plenty of good police officers out of the profession.
Lindsey Rowland is an attorney with the Meuser law firm, which has handled the majority of workers’ comp cases for MPD officers.
“By the time they come into my office, they’re broken,” she said.
The PTSD is real, she said: Her office sometimes gets calls from clients wanting to know the legal ramifications if they commit suicide.
A number of MPD cops are leaving the city with a trail of lawsuit settlements, misconduct complaints and police brutality allegations.
Minneapolis Chief Financial Officer Dushani Dye said misconduct in an employee’s past is not legally relevant to whether the city has to pay workers’ comp benefits. The city evaluates every claim and decides based on the facts, the law and the city’s potential liability, Dye said.
“Often settlements are reached where lump sums are paid out for a fraction of the expected liability,” Dye said in a statement.
Six lawsuits in 12 years
Over the course of Tyrone Barze’s 12-year MPD career, he racked up six lawsuits that cost the city more than $344,000.
Barze, who at one time was a school resource officer, was also sued for choking an 18-year-old developmentally disabled student — causing him to lose consciousness — when he refused to stand up to be searched. The city settled with the student for $140,000.
Barze was also sued for punching a Maple Grove woman in the face, knocking her unconscious, when she tried to record him with her cell phone as he responded to a dispute over a cab fare in 2014. The city paid $82,000 for that, according to the Star Tribune.
He was also sued for pepper spraying the general manager of an Uptown bar while working off duty, for which the city settled for more than $34,000.
And the city settled for $62,500 after he was sued for beating a man unconscious outside a Dinkytown bar, according to the Star Tribune.
His file contains at least 17 misconduct complaints, four of which were sustained and resulted in discipline.
He got a disability pension, and is receiving more than $56,000 per year in pension benefits, and received a $195,000 workers’ comp settlement from the city.
Two officers involved in bar fight
Workers’ comp settlements also went to two of three Minneapolis police officers cited for assault, disorderly conduct and criminal damage to property in 2012 in connection with a racially charged bar fight while off duty in Apple Valley.
Andrew Allen and Christopher Bennett were alleged to have joined a group of white men who followed a group of Black men into a bar parking lot, knocked one of them down and beat him while hurling racial slurs, according to the Star Tribune.
Charges against Allen were dropped, and Bennett pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was suspended but stayed on the force until last year.
Bennett had 16 misconduct complaints in his file, with three sustained.
Allen had nine complaints; none sustained.
Bennett settled his workers’ comp claim with the city for $175,000, and Allen settled for $170,000.
Bennett is receiving nearly $57,000 per year in disability pension benefits, and Allen more than $52,000 annually.
Officer involved in Terrance Franklin killing
Andrew Stender was one of five police officers on a SWAT team that shot Terrance Franklin 10 times in a basement of an Uptown home in 2013.
A grand jury decided not to indict the officers, but a video obtained by Time magazine raised new questions about the police version of what happened. The Star Tribune reported in November that Stender and two other officers involved had retained lawyers and were talking to county prosecutors.
Stender was also accused of harassing Officer Yvonne “Bonnie” Edwards over the course of four years while working in the K-9 unit where Stender was a supervisor. The City Council approved a $225,000 settlement with Edwards.
Former MPD Police Chief Medaria Arradondo demoted Stender from sergeant to officer one year ago — two and a half years after the city began investigating Edwards’ harassment claims.
His file contains 23 misconduct complaints, two of them sustained.
The City Council approved a $195,000 workers’ comp settlement with him in October, and he left the department in February after 30 years. He is also receiving more than $128,000 per year in disability pension benefits, according to PERA.
Punched a handcuffed man
In 2016, Alexander Brown and another officer punched a handcuffed, Native American man in the face, breaking his nose and possibly causing a traumatic brain injury, according to discipline documents.
The officers also put a spit hood over his head, and then an EMT injected him with ketamine; doctors had to intubate the man to keep him breathing, according to arbitration documents.
Brown was fired over it, but then he sued the city, claiming it agreed to rehire him and then backed out of the deal, according to the Star Tribune.
He got his job back, and last year he won a $175,000 workers’ comp settlement with the city. He is getting more than $46,000 annually in early retirement benefits.
And there are many more
The city was sued when Craig Taylor was accused of hitting a bystander while executing a 2008 search warrant. He hit the man so hard that the man lost control of his bowels. The city paid nearly $500,000 to settle a federal lawsuit. Taylor received a $175,000 workers’ comp settlement and is receiving more than $73,000 per year in disability pension benefits.
The city was sued when Sherry Appledorn was accused of stomping on a man’s back, kicking him a dozen times and using a Taser on him twice while apprehending a car break-in suspect in 2008. The city settled with the man for $125,000. Appledorn, who has a lengthy complaint file, received a $160,000 workers’ comp settlement.
Thomas Bernardson was accused of punching a man so hard he suffered a concussion. He was convicted of misdemeanor fifth-degree assault and MPD suspended him, but he kept his state license and his job. Bernardson received a $175,000 workers’ comp settlement.
City leaders say they’re powerless to challenge settlements
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison has said the council has been advised to approve the settlements because taking the cases to trial could be even more expensive.
Jim Mortenson, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, the largest union representing Minnesota law enforcement, said with about 300 police officers gone since Floyd, the city doesn’t have enough attorneys to deal with all the workers’ comp cases.
And if they take a case to court rather than settle, there’s no guarantee the city would win, and they could end up paying more.
“It’d be overwhelming,” he said. “If they brought every one of those to court, I couldn’t even imagine what the legal bills would be. You can’t just pull any attorney to do that work.”
But some new council members have been so disturbed by the settlements they’ve voted against them.
Council Member Robin Worlobah said the council has been advised by the city attorney’s office that “we’re kinda stuck,” and it’s best to just settle the cases.
“I think this is something that constituents should absolutely take up,” Worlobah said. “How many are being used to avoid discipline?”
What evidence does she have that officers are leaving to avoid discipline? She replied: “There’s nothing shared publicly about that.”
Some police critics say the upside of the expensive settlements is that the city is dumping officers who needed to go. Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said officers such as Barze should have been gone long ago.
“Getting rid of some of these for $170,000 is a wild bargain,” she said.
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