Friendly Fire

When 12 COPS arrived at Andre Madison's house for a routine drug bust, they wandered into a ferocious gunfight with themselves.

According to Madison's attorneys, there are also signs that police tampered with evidence in the house. For example, there is a photograph of the shotgun on the rear bedroom floor. But in his statement, Officer Bennett said that immediately after order was restored in the house, "We conducted a slow search and in the dining room area I observed a shotgun laying on the floor."

Even more curious are two photographs of the rear bedroom window taken from outside the building. In the first, taken just hours after the shooting that night, the shades on the window are drawn in a way that make it highly improbable that someone could see inside. But in the second photo--taken the next morning, after MPD officers had custody of the apartment--the lower left corner of a shade has been lifted in a manner that would let someone outside get a glimpse of the bedroom. "One could speculate," says Madison attorney Joe Margulies, choosing his words carefully, "that while police officers were there for the night, someone moved the rifle and raised the blinds in a manner that was more consistent with what the police say happened."

During his trial, Madison's credibility is sure to be challenged. His attorneys like to emphasize that the 37-year-old has never been convicted of a felony, and at the time of the raid was spending most of his days and nights away from the house tending to his fledgling beauty-salon business. Yet the fact remains that Madison was living in a place that was the site of an undercover drug buy; where a frequent guest has admitted to police he sold marijuana (although he has never been charged with any crime); and where it was not unusual to have a shotgun propped against the kitchen stove--where Madison found it on a moment's notice.

In addition, while there are no felonies on Madison's rap sheet, it is not spotless either. He has been arrested for drunken driving and subsequently cited six times for driving after his license had been revoked. In November '94 he was charged with giving false information to police, and 11 months later was arrested for fleeing from the police. He has also been shot once before, in a domestic dispute.

None of this sounds characteristic of a man who would stand down police in a drug raid. But to make the second-degree assault charges stick, the Hennepin County attorney's office need only convince a jury that Madison pointed a gun--a gun he admits was in his hands that night--at four police officers, who no doubt will testify to that effect.

The legal maneuvering is not confined to the pending criminal trial, however. Madison has been preparing a civil lawsuit against the city and the police department, alleging that the cops' actions violated his civil rights. His attorney on the civil suit is Robert Bennett, whose high-profile victories against the MPD include the landmark Mike Sauro case.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Hennepin County attorney's office has offered Madison a deal. If he goes to trial, he faces four felony charges of second-degree assault with a firearm, which together carry a presumptive sentence of 12 years. But if he pleads guilty to just one misdemeanor, reckless use of a firearm--which carries a sentence of only 90 days--the county will drop the other charges. The catch is, that guilty plea would essentially preclude Madison from suing the city of Minneapolis.

Of course there is no way to be sure that city and county attorneys are working together on the matter. Hennepin County assistant attorney Caroline Lennon, the prosecutor handling the criminal case, refuses to comment on any plea-bargain proposals and says that neither the city nor its police department has interfered in the criminal proceedings. Yet Madison's attorneys suggest that it's odd for prosecutors to threaten to throw the book at Madison--especially since no one else has been charged in the case--while offering him a deal that would have no consequence except to prevent a massive lawsuit against the city.

And, they add, the strategy could well work. "As offered, the plea says, 'You're not guilty of what we first came to the door for, but we want to convict you of something that would essentially deprive you of your civil rights,'" says Bennett. "I'm not sure that I could recommend trial for anyone who could escape four felonies. That's a powerful lever. The prosecutor and the police have gotten together and decided to use this tool. Whether they are using it properly is for someone else to determine."

Minneapolis administrators have cause to be nervous about any civil trial that examines the ERU. The overactive, understaffed nature of the unit can be neatly dramatized by comparing its workload to what it was doing a decade ago. In 1986, the team conducted 35 raids. Until a 1992 downsizing, the unit included as many as 80 officers. In 1996, drawing on a smaller pool of just 58 trained specialists, the unit performed more than 700 raids--more than their counterparts in the LAPD.

Yet despite this crushing, high-stress workload, ERU members says they rarely see their efforts result in convictions. Last December, Kroll told the Star Tribune that in five years and hundreds of raids with the unit, he has never once had to testify in court on a crack-cocaine case resulting from his ERU work. A recent internal spot-check suggested that not even half the ERU's cases produce enough evidence to justify a criminal charge. Some cops in the unit, including Kroll, speculate that rather than serving their intended function--apprehending criminals too dangerous for other cops to go after--their raids are used to pacify residents and politicians who demand visible anti-crime action.

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