How's He Doing?

In just eight months, chief Bill McManus has alienated the media, the pols, and the MPD rank and file. He must be doing something right.

"This is the kind of change that's been needed," says civil rights activist and longtime MPD critic Ron Edwards. "It's been a long time coming to have people of color in positions of authority. Especially given the hit the minority hires took in the budget cuts."

But one Minneapolis cop told me that there's some disdain for affirmative action McManus-style, a point that CRA director Michael Friedman echoes. "There are white officers that I've heard complain about it, and there's a bit of a racist subtext," he says. "I can't speak directly to the appointments, but taking complaints from the community, I can certainly see the value in affirmative action."

Not many will dispute, however, that the cops advanced under the new chief are qualified for their positions. Dolan has long been a favorite in the community and among cops. The African Americans in top positions--Don Harris, Don Banham, and Val Wurster in particular--are almost universally viewed as good cops. "I'm looking for quality people who are up to the task," McManus says of his selections. "If I can find a minority for that, I'll certainly consider that. I want to be balanced. But I don't want to send the message that if you're a white male, you're not going anywhere."

 

McManus has had far less success with his image in the local media. After that first gushing Nick Coleman column, the Star Tribune didn't take long to turn on the new chief. After McManus announced the suspensions, subsequent stories appeared to favor the suspended officers and heavily quoted their attorneys. McManus was forced not to comment specifically because the circumstances were under investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

After the BCA released its report, the newspaper and local TV stations focused on one passage from suspended Capt. Mike Martin, who told investigators that McManus had mentioned retribution against Lucy Gerold. "He said he was going to take her out...a piece at a time," was the way Martin relayed the chief's comments to investigators.

Meanwhile, though, many news outlets declined to report some of the more troubling aspects of the testimony the BCA collected. Namely, that under Olson, the entire Duy Ngo investigation--in which Ngo, working undercover, was shot repeatedly by Charlie Storlie, another MPD cop--was ignored by top brass, that Olson himself seemed disinterested in a memo from Lt. Mike Carlson decrying the investigation from day one, and that the MPD was trapped in a maelstrom of infighting and political maneuvering. (Carlson was the third officer suspended.)

Not long after, the paper was slighting McManus over a lawsuit filed by Capt. Stacy Altonen that claimed she was reassigned as political payback for supporting Gerold's candidacy for chief. And the paper hyped the story that McManus hadn't taken the test for his peace officer's license. Television reports, most notably those by Channel 9, began to question McManus's ability to lead the department if he wasn't wearing the uniform. Channel 11 aired a report that ridiculously pressed McManus for not having a Minnesota driver's license. McManus, aside from insisting he was studying for the peace officer's test, largely did not counterpunch. McManus eventually took the test and passed, four months into the job. (LAPD Chief William Bratton, who is seen as the king of reformers for having turned around departments in Boston, New York, and now L.A., just passed his test in California--two years into his tenure.)

"The media has been very unfair to him, especially the Star Tribune," says the Rev. Ian Bethel. Bethel is the head of something called the Police-Community Relations Council, a group formed in the wake of the mediation agreement between the MPD and community leaders that was brokered by the U.S. Department of Justice before McManus came on the job. "The Star Tribune has been controlled by some of the members of the rank and file, who are good sources for them--in my opinion."

In July, McManus sent a letter to Star Tribune editor Anders Gyllenhaal. In the letter, McManus briefly detailed a number of inaccuracies the Strib had reported in stories involving him. But mostly, he asked Gyllenhaal to rein in one of his reporters who was digging around for dirt. The reporter had gone to great lengths to track down McManus's first wife, apparently to find out whether McManus had physically abused her. The reporter's queries and presumption traveled through the grapevine around City Hall. McManus heard about it from his ex-wife.

Gyllenhaal says the Strib's coverage of the cheif is "not weighted in any direction." "A lot has happened since he came to town and we're going to cover it. We're going to talk to anybody who's got something," counters Gyllenhaal, dismissing the assertion that the paper plays favorites with sources. "It's important stuff he's trying to accomplish, and we're writing about it. We look into everything we can, any tip, anything."

Part of the scrutiny comes with the territory of being the new kid in town, McManus explains, but he felt this had crossed the line. "It goes back to me not wearing the uniform and taking the test," McManus surmises, his voice still sounding a sting. "I suppose the feeling was, there was something sinister going on. If you have a domestic charge, you can't carry a gun. There is no domestic charge. There is no worst-case scenario. I have never laid a hand on a woman in my life." (Gyllenhaal won't discuss McManus's claims, saying, "I'm not going to talk about things that didn't end up in the paper. It's not appropriate.")

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