The Potluck

Judge orders pause on new use-of-force law for Minnesota police officers

By: - September 14, 2021 2:17 pm

State Patrol officers stand guard in front of a burned down apartment building on May 29 in Minneapolis. Law enforcement surrounded the area around the Minneapolis Police Third Precinct headquarters after riots broke out. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

A new Minnesota law creating stricter standards for police use of force has been put on hold until a lawsuit challenging it is resolved.

The law went into effect in March, but a judge ordered it shelved while the lawsuit continues. 

Some questions, answered. 

What happened?

A judge granted police groups’ motion for temporary injunctive relief and denied the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. So the law is on hold until the lawsuit is over. 

What does the law do?

Under the 2020 law, deadly force could no longer be justified to protect the officer or another person from “apparent” death or serious harm. Instead, they could use deadly force if death or harm is “reasonably likely to occur.” Officers have to be able to “articulate with specificity” the threat. The law also restricts when police can use deadly force to stop someone fleeing law enforcement.

What prompted the change in law?

The law was passed in July 2020 after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, sparking global outrage and police reforms. Supporters said it would increase police accountability, with state Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, saying the old law was too subjective. 

Who sued over it?

The lawsuit was filed by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association and Law Enforcement Labor Services.

Why did they sue?

The law enforcement groups have tried to change the law since it was enacted, saying the language is too restrictive, and that they weren’t given enough time to train officers on it. Their lawsuit alleges officers would be forced to testify against themselves in excessive force cases, because the law would require them to specifically articulate the conditions under which they decided to use deadly force. They contend that’s a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights to not testify against themselves.

Why did the judge pause the law?

Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro, who was appointed in 2012 by former Gov. Mark Dayton and had been a public defender, wrote in his order that the public policy implications are severe, so it needs to be done correctly. 

How long will it be on hold?

Castro said oral arguments will take place within 60 days, and then he will rule at some point after that.

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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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