2022: Right-wing fights, election deniers, Brady violations, police PTSD, 3M chemicals

Top stories I covered this year

By: - December 26, 2022 8:00 am

Sandy Klocker, who believes the 2020 presidential election was stolen, shows her hat during a break in a Sherburne County Board meeting Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

What I love about journalism is that every day is different, and this year was no exception. This year I spent time with cops, chemists and pillow mogul Mike Lindell, among many, many others. 

I had three main areas of focus: The election deniers and other far-right insurgents who are trying to wrest control of the GOP; our criminal justice system in the wake of George Floyd’s murder; and 3M’s history of contaminating East Metro communities with their chemicals. It was a wild ride. 

It started with a bang: My first story of 2022 was about how Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson repeatedly denied to a sheriff’s deputy that he was driving his county car when he crashed it a month prior, while drunk, on an interstate near Alexandria. Police reports and search warrant applications showed he even claimed at one point that a cab driver was behind the wheel of his county-owned SUV when he crashed.

Hutchinson’s year got worse, and now he’s gone from office.  

Far right fight

To some right-wingers, mainstream Minnesota Republicans aren’t swinging their right hooks hard enough, and they made a lot of noise about it this year.

In March, police were twice called to the Morrison County Republican convention to deal with an “unruly crowd” after right-wing activists took over the convention floor. 

Not to be outdone, the Clay County Republican convention in Moorhead had to be canceled after a power struggle and allegations of a coup d’etat over the rightful chair of the county party. A faction broke off and held its own convention in a farmhouse, where they elected their own delegates for congressional and statewide conventions. 

The GOP even went so far as to publish a lengthy list of items Republican state convention-goers were asked to leave at home, including sling shots, flamethrowers, potato guns and “hoards of insects.”

Action 4 Liberty, a far-right pressure group, tried to take out fellow Republicans all over the state, calling them “weak and feckless.” Some of their candidates made it through the primary, but in the end, even their poster boy, Rep. Erik Mortensen, R-Shakopee, didn’t get re-elected. Mortensen spent much of his first term decrying vaccines and pulling stunts to get media attention, making him a pariah among fellow Republicans.

Election fraud in the GOP

The right-wingers were hyped up and ready to tackle election fraud in 2022, but their hyper-vigilance largely ended up focused on the Republican Party, which sowed chaos and suspicion right out of the chute when there were discrepancies in key data from its Feb. 1 precinct caucuses.

Some candidates for governor and secretary of state called for an audit and postponement of the party conventions, as well as a “full forensic audit” (stop me if you’ve heard this one before).

A small cadre of right-wing activists traveled the state claiming the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump and other Republicans.

State Elections Director David Maeda looks on as a woman yells about election fraud claims during a break in a Sherburne County Board meeting Tuesday, July 12, 2022. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer.

Among the headline acts were a former small-town Minnesota mayor and a retired Army captain from Texas.

Trump supporters and members of the national “America First” movement, armed with sophisticated-seeming but debunked statistical analyses, bombarded local and state election officials with questions, demands for audits and even threats about unfounded election conspiracy claims.

Republican Secretary of State candidate Kim Crockett led a push to get “eyes on every ballot” by recruiting more election judges — which are essentially poll workers nominated by political parties. Motivated in part by the false impression that the 2020 election was stolen, they figured an army of GOP eyes would ensure victory. 

As the campaign wore on, it became clear how connected Crockett was to a national right-wing network led by Cleta Mitchell, the Republican lawyer who tried to help former President Donald Trump flip the Georgia election results. 

Crockett, who had some problems with facts, was a key driver of activists that pushed county officials to stop using absentee ballot drop boxes and allow more partisan poll workers to staff elections.

They had some success: Various county officials agreed to scrap drop boxes for absentee ballots and use more partisan election judges during the midterms. Crow Wing County officials agreed to hand-count election results in twice as many precincts as state law requires.

They got a boost from conservative Christians who increasingly mix church and state.

Stallings story continues 

I wrote my first story about Jaleel Stallings in 2021, but wrote many more last year.

We learned the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and FBI were investigating a Minneapolis Police Department SWAT team that fired marking rounds at civilians who were breaking curfew.

Five days after George Floyd was killed by police, as police sought to regain control of the city, the SWAT team drove around in an unmarked white cargo van, firing rubber bullets at people.

One hit Stallings, an Army veteran who fired back at the van, thinking he was under attack from white supremacists who were said to be roaming the city. The police jumped out of the van and beat Stallings and his friend. Stallings claimed self-defense, and was acquitted by a jury, then sued the city, winning a $1.5 million settlement.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman recently said he erred in prosecuting Stallings, but blamed MPD officers, saying they lied to prosecutors.

Brady material

A Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation into MPD contained numerous jarring headlines.

Among the less-publicized problems was a contention that local prosecutors weren’t turning over negative information about police officers that could be helpful to the defense, despite a constitutional requirement to do so. 

It’s called Brady material, named after 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland.

Police PTSD

In 2021, I wrote many stories about the wave of law enforcement officers who retired early after Floyd’s murder, claiming they were disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder.

In 2022, we discovered some interesting early retirees, such as an MPD officer involved in the Stallings incident, who got a $190,000 workers compensation settlement from the city. 

We found that out of 144 Minneapolis cops who received workers’ compensation settlements in the two years after Floyd was killed, 139 had misconduct complaints filed against them. And they got six-figure settlements on their way out the door, with the city paying over $22.2 million total by that point.

A Minneapolis police tactical team exits a police van at Hennepin Ave and 31st Street in the early morning hours of April 12, 2021, during reports of looting following the killing of Daunte Wright hours earlier. Photo by Chad Davis.

In addition, many got disability pensions, citing PTSD, with the state paying more than $875,000 per month in disability pensions to 169 former Minneapolis police officers.

They left lucrative jobs: The exodus left MPD short-staffed (which we illustrated by spending a night shift downtown), requiring it to pay heavy overtime.

Overtime plumped up their pay to the point where, by our calculation, about 72% of MPD cops made six figures in 2021.

The highest paid MPD cop was Sgt. Stephen McBride, who was paid nearly $376,000 — more than three times his regular salary.

Due to all the departures, the state police and fire retirement plan could be underfunded by an estimated $1 billion.

Ballot fraud investigation

Last spring, we learned about a federal investigation into the 2020 election when we reported on a perjury case involving Minneapolis DFL Sen. Omar Fateh’s brother-in-law and campaign volunteer.

Muse Mohamud Mohamed was convicted by a federal jury of lying to a grand jury about his handling of three absentee ballots during the 2020 primary campaign.

The case led to a state Senate ethics investigation, during which senators learned Fateh ran his campaign rent-free out of an adult day care center in Minneapolis. We looked into the daycare for months, and as we prepared to publish our findings, state regulators suspended the daycare’s license.

Feeding their future

After federal criminal charges were filed against dozens of people who allegedly participated in a $250 million scheme to exploit a federal child nutrition program, we followed up with several scoops:

  • A former senior policy aide to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and former chair of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority were among those charged.
  • A former key aide to Bernie Sanders’ Iowa presidential campaign worked as a consultant for Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit that federal prosecutors say was at the center of the massive fraud. 
  • Minneapolis City Council Member Jamal Osman’s wife incorporated a nonprofit that reported feeding 2,500 children per day through the program. Osman took his name off another nonprofit and turned it over to others, who went on to allegedly bilk the feds of over $10 million. Neither Osman nor his wife has been charged with a crime.
  • A prominent Bloomington woman that the state had awarded as an “outstanding refugee” had a nonprofit claiming to feed 6,400 children per day, multiple times per day. She has not been charged with a crime.

3M’s chemical history

Amara Strande, 20, learned a few months ago that a tumor grew next to her heart, wrapping around her upper right chest, fracturing ribs, with additional tumors growing next to her heart. Her doctors are trying a drug that’s been somewhat effective on fibrolamellar tumors in mice — the same creatures that first alerted 3M to the toxicity of its chemicals. “If this doesn’t work, I’m f***ed,” she said. Photo by Nicole Neri/Minnesota Reformer

We published a two-part series about how 3M knew its chemicals were harmful for decades, but didn’t tell the public or government regulators.

The first story centered on Amara Strande, a 20-year-old woman who has battled cancerous tumors for the past five years, since she was in Tartan High School, where she said so many kids got cancer that students joked about not drinking from water fountains.

The second story delved into internal 3M documents, which show the Minnesota company hid the dangers of its chemicals for decades.

Days later, 3M announced that it will stop manufacturing a group of chemicals called PFAS by the end of 2025. 

My Story of the year

My favorite story of the year was about MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell getting surrounded by the FBI in a Mankato Hardee’s drive-through and having his cell phone seized.

He spent half the interview blasting me and the Reformer. This is not unusual. I keep hoping he’ll forget who I am, but sure enough, he remembers every time. 

Lindell did allow that the Reformer is superior to Fox News or Newsmax, which hadn’t adequately reported on voting machines, in his view.

“You’re way better than Fox News or Newsmax,” he said. “I will say this — those two rotten, rotten outlets will not even bother to call me.”

It was my favorite story because even though he loathes me, he answered most of my questions before abruptly cutting me off, saying he had to call another loathsome reporter.

“I got CNN to call,” he said. “They’re the next one I get to call.”

Then he hung up before I could tell him how much my parents love him.

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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.