Officer Down

Typically, prosecutors would be all over a case involving someone suspected of trying to run down a cop

IT WAS THE shortest night of the year, the summer solstice the day after a full moon. Inside the Quest nightclub in downtown Minneapolis at about quarter past midnight, DJ Richie Rich was spinning rhythm & blues for the Saturday crowd; outside, 18-year-old Keary Wayne Saffold was idling in his dark blue 1992 Toyota Camry. When Tony Adams and Charles McCree, two Minneapolis police officers working off-duty at the Quest, attempted to give Saffold a traffic citation for blocking traffic, the evening suddenly got a lot longer for all three men.

According to the police report, "Officer was struck by vehicle, and a shot was fired." Saffold apparently drove the car into McCree, who was standing in the street. Somehow, McCree's weapon discharged into the hood of Saffold's Toyota. Adams broke the passenger window in an attempt to apprehend the driver. McCree was treated at Abbott/ Northwestern Hospital and released that evening. Saffold was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon--his car--and also released that night.

The incident rated no more than a paragraph in each of the dailies, but has been the subject of intense speculation in the law enforcement community: Word on the street was that both cops were being asked not to make noise so the case could go quietly away because Saffold is the son of an assistant U.S. Attorney, and because the underage daughter of a prominent black public official was also in the vehicle. Saffold's father, Kenneth Saffold, says he is "deeply troubled" by allegations of pressure, "because there certainly has been nothing like that on my part. I called one of the officers [involved] to find out what happened but that is it."

When City Pages called the Hennepin County Attorney's office 10 days after the June 22 arrest, Saffold's case still hadn't been forwarded from the Minneapolis Police Department for review, a delay that apparently stemmed from the MPD internal affairs investigation that's mandatory whenever officers fire shots.

MPD spokeswoman Penny Parrish says the investigation found no breach of rules or regulations against McCree, and that there was "an accidental discharge of his weapon because of the action of the driver." The verdict clears McCree, but leaves dangling the critical issue of whether Keary Saffold tried to run the officer down or got spooked when he saw the gun and lost control of his car.

Typically, prosecutors would be all over a case involving someone arrested for assaulting a cop with a deadly weapon. But harmonious relations between the MPD and the U.S. Attorney's Office, are crucial to the successful prosecution of many federal felonies every year. That the Saffolds and the two officers are black further complicates the politics of the issue. The Black Police Officers Association currently has discrimination lawsuits pending against the MPD. For his part, U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug has come under fire in the black community (and elsewhere) for his ill-advised prosecution of Qubilah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, for her alleged plot to assassinate Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Not surprisingly, the rumor mill is working overtime. One source claims that since the incident, an internal affairs complaint has been registered against a black officer working off-duty at the Quest. Another source says Saffold panicked when he saw the officer's gun pointed at him, while another says the teen was acting belligerant and shouting, "Do you know who I am?"

Raechelle Rainey, a Saffold family friend who says she was outside the Quest that night, claims that after the shot was fired, she saw Adams "being really rough [with Saffold], smacking him upside the head." Rainey says she has not spoken to the MPD about the incident.

Parrish says that because the matter is still under review by the county attorney, neither officer is free to comment on the case.

When the county attorney finally received the case last Thursday, it was assigned to Assistant County Prosecutor Emily Johnson. She says cases involving suspects in police custody are the office's first priority, and that a decision on whether to prosecute Saffold won't occur for at least "30 or 40 days." A spokesperson for the county attorney's office says that "it is not common practice" for a man arrested on assault with a dangerous weapon not to be charged more than a month later, "but depending on the length of the investigation, it has happened before."

 
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