The ACLU of Minnesota is suing the city of Minneapolis and the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department, alleging the department’s disciplinary practices violate Minnesota’s public records law.
The suit, filed Thursday, alleges the department intentionally and incorrectly refers police officers accused of serious violations to “coaching” — which involves training or meeting with a supervisor — to keep records of the incidents out of public view. Under Minnesota law, records of complaints against police officers are only public in cases that result in discipline. The city of Minneapolis contends that coaching is not discipline and that the records are not public.
The lawsuit stems from a records request made by the government transparency organization Minnesota Coalition on Government Information in February, according to the suit. The organization asked the city for data related to coaching, including coaching for Derek Chauvin, the former officer convicted of murdering George Floyd.
A city employee denied the request, according to the lawsuit.
More than 70% of complaints against police that result in discipline are referred to coaching, according to the ACLU.
“There is a clear disconnect between official statements of transparency and accountability and MPD policies that intentionally hide public data. The city and MPD are ignoring the intent and letter of the law to deliberately hide bad police behavior,” said Coalition on Government Information board member Paul Ostrow. “Public information is a civil right. Police reform cannot succeed when officer misconduct is hidden from the public.”
The city says coaching is only used for minor violations, like speeding. But records show coaching has been used for allegations involving excessive force, failure to provide protection, discrimination, and police retaliation and harassment, a Reformer investigation found.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the city to release the data, and for damages in an amount to be determined at trial.