The Hit Parade Revisited

In an age of shrinking budgets, the city of Minneapolis is spending more money than ever to settle lawsuits against the MPD

By G.R. Anderson Jr. and Paul Demko

Sometime after midnight on July 29, 2003, Charles and Angela Rostance were rousted from bed by flashing lights and the blare of police sirens outside. The recently married graduate students, in town from Arizona to visit Charles's father, went to their bedroom window looking out on 35th Street in south Minneapolis to see what the commotion was about. As Charles Rostance later described the incident in a sworn deposition, he saw a man seated on a motorcycle with a cop car pulled up close behind. The police officers had gotten out of the car. Their guns were drawn and pointed at him.

They ordered the man to get off the bike and put his hands on top of his head. According to Rostance's statement, the man immediately complied. At about this time, Angela joined her husband at the window, watching as the cops directed the motorcyclist to get on his knees in the street. He promptly followed this order as well.

At this point, according to separate statements given by both Charles and Angela, an officer ran up to the man being arrested and kicked him between the shoulder blades. "His face bounced off the pavement," Charles recalled in May. "Nothing broke the fall except for his face."

According to Angela's deposition, two more squad cars arrived at this point. A group of officers surrounded the downed motorcyclist and kicked him at least three times in his side. She added: "I couldn't really see the guy very well but I saw several cops around him kicking and I saw bright lights and I said, 'Oh my God, they're tasing him.'"

Seeing this, Angela Rostance phoned 911. "I said something along the lines of, 'There are a bunch of cops that are beating this guy up,'" she noted in her deposition. "They seemed extremely annoyed and said, 'If there are cops there, I'm sure the situation is under control.'"

When Angela returned to the window, the motorcyclist was handcuffed and led to a squad car by an officer. But before the man was placed in the back seat, according to Angela, the cop got in one more lick, ramming the motorcyclist's head into the door frame.

The man being arrested, Sherif Mahmoud Mansour, was subsequently charged with driving under the influence and fleeing a police officer. Mansour, a native Egyptian, pleaded guilty to drunk driving, but the latter charge was ultimately dismissed by a judge. "He's a nice guy," says his attorney, David Shulman. "He just looks like a terrorist by our standards."

Roughly a year after the arrest, Mansour filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. The civil complaint charges that the cops repeatedly punched, kicked, and used a stun gun on him for no reason. Minneapolis Police Department officers G.T. Moore, Matthew St. George, and Brian Thureson are named as defendants in the case.

Mansour's case against the city of Minneapolis and the officers is still pending in federal court. According to Shulman, the two parties are currently in settlement talks.

At this point, according to separate statements given by both Charles and Angela, an officer ran up to the man being arrested and kicked him between the shoulder blades. "His face bounced off the pavement," Charles recalled in May. "Nothing broke the fall except for his face."

According to Angela's deposition, two more squad cars arrived at this point. A group of officers surrounded the downed motorcyclist and kicked him at least three times in his side. She added: "I couldn't really see the guy very well but I saw several cops around him kicking and I saw bright lights and I said, 'Oh my God, they're tasing him.'"

Seeing this, Angela Rostance phoned 911. "I said something along the lines of, 'There are a bunch of cops that are beating this guy up,'" she noted in her deposition. "They seemed extremely annoyed and said, 'If there are cops there, I'm sure the situation is under control.'"

When Angela returned to the window, the motorcyclist was handcuffed and led to a squad car by an officer. But before the man was placed in the back seat, according to Angela, the cop got in one more lick, ramming the motorcyclist's head into the door frame.

The man being arrested, Sherif Mahmoud Mansour, was subsequently charged with driving under the influence and fleeing a police officer. Mansour, a native Egyptian, pleaded guilty to drunk driving, but the latter charge was ultimately dismissed by a judge. "He's a nice guy," says his attorney, David Shulman. "He just looks like a terrorist by our standards."

Roughly a year after the arrest, Mansour filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. The civil complaint charges that the cops repeatedly punched, kicked, and used a stun gun on him for no reason. Minneapolis Police Department officers G.T. Moore, Matthew St. George, and Brian Thureson are named as defendants in the case.

Mansour's case against the city of Minneapolis and the officers is still pending in federal court. According to Shulman, the two parties are currently in settlement talks.

 

If Mansour ultimately receives compensation for his treatment by MPD officers, his would join a long list of settlements and jury awards paid out by the city for allegations of police misconduct. In 1994, City Pages published a story, called "Hit Parade," about the MPD's most notorious and costly cops. What's changed in 10 years? Not much.

Since 1995, Minneapolis taxpayers have coughed up some $10.4 million in 190 cases stemming from MPD actions. Last year, Minneapolis disbursed more than $2 million in damages to aggrieved citizens--the highest one-year total in the city's history. And so far in 2005, the city has agreed to pay out $915,769.37 to 21 plaintiffs in cases against the MPD.

Minneapolis's track record stands in stark contrast to that of St. Paul. Between 1998 and 2004, the city across the river paid out just over $800,000 in 29 police-related lawsuits--barely more than a third of the sum Minneapolis dispensed in 2004 alone. During that period, the city of St. Paul prevailed in 28 other cases. Although St. Paul has a smaller police force than Minneapolis--by roughly a third--that fact hardly explains the massive discrepancy.

"Their officers obey the Constitution more often," surmises local civil rights attorney Robert Bennett, who has won a number of large settlements in MPD cases. "St. Paul has run a tighter ship from a disciplinary standpoint."

MPD Deputy Chief Donald Harris doesn't seem to disagree. "I think there is a confidence level in terms of the way St. Paul police officers approach their work," he acknowledges. "There is a credibility level with that agency as a whole that has definitely never existed within this department. We think we are the absolute best. The rest of the world doesn't really think that."

Conventional wisdom, in Minneapolis as elsewhere, says that police brutality cases are typically the byproduct of a few bad cops, but it's worth noting that the cases in recent years have involved a wide range of police officers. And, in 14 cases reviewed by City Pages that were settled for more than $50,000 each in the last five years, personnel records released by the MPD indicate that one cop was fired. But the rest were never even disciplined. In fact, most of the officers who have cost the city tens of thousands of dollars over the years remain on the force to this day. Some have been promoted to high-ranking posts.

The problem shows no sign of abating. These cases reflect only a small segment of the population who feel they've been mistreated by the cops. Attorney Bennett estimates that he agrees to represent roughly only one of every 50 people who call his office looking to file a lawsuit. For David Shulman, another lawyer who handles such cases, the ratio is approximately one in 20. "A kick to the nuts, in my book," says Shulman, "that's not enough anymore."

The common element in most of the cases where the city has agreed to pay six-figure settlements in recent years is the presence of Bennett. In 2004, three of his clients collected more than 75 percent of the $2 million paid out by the city in civil rights cases. All three cases settled before going to trial. Part of the explanation for Bennett's success is that he thoroughly screens potential clients to ensure that they are credible and sympathetic. He generally won't take on clients who are chemically dependent, mentally ill, or have multiple criminal convictions.

But another common element to cases in which the city has agreed to pay out large settlements is that the plaintiffs are mostly white. This is despite the fact that most civil rights lawsuits are filed by minorities. All three Bennett cases that settled for more than $200,000 last year involved white plaintiffs.

Race can play a factor in cases that go to trial as well. The vast majority of civil rights cases are tried in federal court, where jurors are selected from across the state. This means that it's extremely difficult to get substantial minority representation in a jury pool. Attorney Jeffrey Hassan says that he now avoids filing civil rights cases in federal court in part for that reason. He recently won a $356,000 jury verdict in a case involving a black mother and daughter that he brought in Hennepin County District Court. The city had offered only $75,000 prior to trial. The Minneapolis City Attorney's Office denies that either race or the presence of Bennett play any role in the decision to settle a case.

Any efforts at reform in the MPD will face long-standing systemic barriers. In recent years the MPD's Internal Affairs Division has been largely moribund, rarely sustaining complaints against officers even when their actions have resulted in major payouts for the city. Over the years, IAD has earned a reputation as the place where misconduct cases go to die. The city's cops also have a very strong union, the Police Officers' Federation of Minneapolis, that historically has fought tenaciously on behalf of officers accused of wrongdoing. And the city's Civilian Review Authority--an eight-person panel that investigates allegations of officer misconduct--has been largely ineffective for years, despite an overhaul three years ago.

McManus, who has been on the job for 17 months, acknowledges the department's historical shortcomings. "I don't think that there was enough accountability, in terms of the way we investigated these incidents, in terms of any discipline that was handed out," he says. "And I think the culture got a little bit sideways in that area."

 

Around 10:15 at night on March 31, 2003, officers Lee Meili and Matthew Hobbs were dispatched to investigate a domestic dispute in the Morris Park neighborhood at the southern edge of Minneapolis. Upon arriving, the officers found Michael Polley and his wife, who had both been drinking, seated on the front steps of their home.

When the officers asked what was going on, Polley responded by pleading with them to "Just take me--don't take my wife." He then proceeded to open the back door of the squad car and climb in. At this point, according to a complaint subsequently filed in U.S. District Court, one of the officers grabbed Polley by the hair, yanked him out of the squad car, and slammed him to the ground. Then, as Polley lay on the ground offering no resistance, one of the officers kneed him forcefully in the abdomen.

Polley was then handcuffed, bundled into the squad car, and taken to the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center. Despite being in excruciating pain, Polley did not have any visible injuries. He was booked into the jail.

"I don't think they realized how badly they'd hurt him," says Bennett, who was Polley's attorney. "If they can take somebody in who is hurt and get them accepted by the jail, that's a good thing. They don't have to spend four hours or five hours in the emergency room babysitting this person."

But it quickly became clear to jail personnel that Polley needed medical attention. Upon arrival at Hennepin County Medical Center, he was in critical condition, diagnosed with "blunt trauma to the abdomen" and immediately dispatched to the operating room. After he was given anesthesia, Polley's blood oxygen level "dropped precipitously." He was on the verge of death. In emergency surgery, doctors discovered that Polley had a wounded spleen, a tear to his colon, and internal bleeding. Surgeons were forced to remove portions of his small intestine and his colon.

Polley remained hospitalized for seven days. His medical bills totaled $35,000. He missed more than a month of work. He will suffer significant digestive difficulties for the rest of his life. Yet despite the life-threatening injuries he suffered, neither Meili nor Hobbs reported using force during the arrest, as they are required to do. In subsequent depositions, according to Bennett, each of the officers continued to deny that they had done anything to cause Polley's internal injuries.

In June of last year, the city agreed to pay Polley $995,000 to settle the matter--making it the most expensive police misconduct case in the city's history. (The previous high, $980,226, was paid to a man named Craig Mische in 1995 over claims that MPD Lieutenant Mike Sauro had savagely beaten the St. Thomas University student.) Despite the record payout, the personnel files for Meili and Hobbs make reference to no disciplinary action in the case. In fact, both officers have completely clean records.

Polley's reign at the top of the money pile will likely be brief. That's because another Bennett client, police officer Duy Ngo, is currently seeking damages that would dwarf any previous settlement. Ngo was shot numerous times by fellow officer Charles Storlie while working undercover in February 2003. Bennett is seeking $9.5 million in compensation for his client's injuries. No trial date has been set.

 

Through the years, Minneapolis has seen no shortage of police chiefs pledging to set right whatever was wrong at the MPD. Back in the 1980s, Tony Bouza charmed many of the department's critics and earned a measure of celebrity in national policing circles with his open criticisms of police business as usual. He also alienated many city pols and, more consequentially, the rank and file and their union leadership. His successor, John Laux, was to date the last chief promoted from within the department. Laux tried to temper police behavior through quiet, back-channel means, if personnel files are any indication.

Robert Olson, the chief chosen by Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton in 1995, hit town just as a one-year spike in the local murder rate was generating a lot of worried talk about the changed state of affairs in "Murderapolis." Prevailing sentiments at City Hall favored more aggressive policing, not more restraint. Robert Bennett, for one, believes that Olson initially tried to clean house, but grew tired of fighting the police union and its friends in city government. Whatever the obstacles, the city's ongoing payouts amount to a pretty strong argument that no MPD chief in the past 25 years has made a lot of progress toward solving the problem.

When current Chief Bill McManus got to town a year and a half ago, he wasted no time in making a number of high-profile moves seemingly aimed at shaking up the long-lamented internal culture of the department. McManus immediately drew fire from numerous quarters for suspending several high-ranking officers, and in the following months he set about reshuffling top MPD brass. One of his more pivotal decisions concerned how the department policed its own.

McManus appointed Don Harris to oversee a new operation called the Office of Professional Standards. (McManus later promoted Harris to deputy chief.) That project has entailed a substantial overhaul of the old Internal Affairs Division. According to Harris, a 17-year veteran of the force, IAD "barely" functioned when McManus arrived. Only three cops were assigned to the unit, which had a backlog of 150 cases. McManus responded by assigning five more investigators to Internal Affairs and inaugurated a policy whereby every reported use of force by an officer is investigated as soon as possible.

That's a diametric switch from the old IAD approach, says Harris. In cases where lawsuits were filed, he notes, IAD would refrain from investigating until the litigation was resolved. Now investigations are launched as soon as a complaint comes to light. What's more, Harris claims, there has been a change in the way discipline is meted out: "Instead of two days for a particular violation, now you're going to do close to ten days for that same violation. And that's absolutely a message that's gotten out."

There is more at stake in the Office of Professional Standards than McManus's ideas about reform. In recent years, the federal Department of Justice has been watching the "patterns and practices" of the Minneapolis Police Department. A series of high-profile incidents in 2002, including one in which officers fatally shot a mentally ill, machete-wielding Somali man near Franklin Avenue, drew the attention of the DoJ. Around the same time, some community leaders contacted a mediator from the Justice Department's community relations branch in hopes of starting DoJ-brokered talks directed at changing some of the MPD's alleged habits. The situation came to a flash point in August 2002, when a riot broke out in the Jordan neighborhood after a bullet from a cop's gun grazed the arm of an 11-year-old boy. Federal mediator Patricia Campbell Glenn was in Minneapolis by the next night.

Discussions between the DoJ, MPD, and community members proceeded by fits and starts for a period of months. Hanging over the proceedings was the possibility of the MPD's being forced into a state known as "receivership"--meaning that the DoJ's civil rights division would appoint a monitor to oversee the department and mandate changes to its policies and practices as defined in a document called a consent decree. Similar arrangements were in place at the time in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Miami. In Detroit, for example, two consent decrees required the police to rewrite their use-of-force policies and teach "de-escalation" techniques for defusing dangerous situations.

Right before outgoing Chief Robert Olson left office last December, he signed on to a federal mediation agreement that purported to raise the bar on local policing practices. It contains provisions dealing with use-of-force techniques--such as chokeholds--as well as the use of "less lethal" weapons, and policies for handling mentally ill suspects. The agreement also led to the formation of a Police Community Relations Council, which meets regularly to review MPD actions. Ultimately, though, the agreement is not legally binding: The only recourse community representatives would have should the MPD fail to live up to the deal is to call in the mediator again. (Many participants had hoped that there would be a stipulation allowing the civil rights division of DoJ to come in and investigate any failures.) Even so, the specter of the Justice Department looms large, and may provide McManus with some additional political capital in pushing reforms.

Attorney David Shulman is wary of reform talk, which has issued from the MPD on many previous occasions. "When they start firing cops," he says, "I'll believe it."

And there's part of the trouble. Common sense and management theory both dictate that one of the most effective means of changing an entrenched institutional mindset is to get rid of the most prominent exemplars of the traits you want to eradicate. But here McManus, like MPD chiefs before him, runs smack into the thick blue wall that is the Minneapolis Police Federation. In an age when the political power of unions is mostly a memory, the federation is an auspicious exception. Citywide office seekers routinely wrestle for the endorsement of the union. For their part, MPD union leaders and attorneys regularly show up at press conferences and city committee hearings--especially when the police budget is on the agenda. And when it comes to settling federal cases, a union attorney--sometimes co-representing accused officers along with the city--usually will sit in on final negotiations.

William Finney, the former chief in St. Paul, understands how a union can become so entrenched. "If you have a revolving-door chief of police, what becomes stable is the police union," Finney says, noting that St. Paul had just three chiefs during his 34 years on the force. "It doesn't change much, and so they become stronger. So the police officers watch that and they say, 'Who's the power in the department?'" (The MPD, by contrast, has had 12 chiefs since 1971.)

There's little doubt the union has its guard up. In the latest issue of Roll Call, the Bi-Monthly Newsletter of the Police Officers' Federation of Minneapolis, federation head John Delmonico writes that the union has filed 20 grievances so far this year, on pace to set a record. He notes the newly invigorated internal affairs department and the heightened zeal of the Civilian Review Authority. (Delmonico did not return repeated calls for this story.) The very next page features Sgt. Bob Kroll's primer on giving statements to internal affairs investigators.

McManus seems loath to criticize the federation. "The union's job is to represent their members, and that's what they do," he says. "If you understand the purpose of unions, and the reasons why they exist, you probably wouldn't look at them as an impediment. There is a reason they do what they do...." McManus pauses. "I'll leave it at that."

 

Largely forgotten in all this is the city's Civilian Review Authority, a citizens' group created to hear complaints about police misconduct. Limited in its powers from the start and frequently plagued by dysfunction, the CRA has had little to no impact for years, and the group plays no role in McManus's reform plans. Michael Friedman, who was named CRA board chair in 2003, says the overhauled CRA has been dismissed, for the most part. Since McManus took office, the CRA has sent 47 cases--where a complaint of misconduct was "sustained"--to him. Up until two months ago, when City Pages contacted him for this story, the chief had reviewed 10. He has now reviewed 26, and in only two of those cases did he "reprimand" an officer. In most cases, he disagreed with the CRA finding. There are still 21 cases to be reviewed.

Harris and McManus don't do much to hide their disdain, chortling out loud when the subject of the CRA is raised. "I deal with the cases as they come across my desk. There's nothing that I'm sitting on," McManus insists. "When the cases come back from CRA we review them and in many cases we find that their determinations, their findings, are based on conjecture, lack of knowledge of police procedure, those types of things."

Late last year, Mike Quinn, a retired Minneapolis cop who put in 23 years on the force, self-published a book that many feared would be a tell-all about the MPD. But Walking with the Devil: The Police Code of Silence is a frank meditation on "The Code"--the understanding that cops never out each other over bad policing. Quinn often sat in on CRA hearings when he was with the police force, and one salient passage from the book hints at the problems inherent in an independent civilian board. Quinn found himself contradicting testimony of a chief's aide, who was minimizing the actions of accused officers. "The panel believed him, not me," Quinn writes. "I wasn't surprised. I've heard cops from across the nation voice the opinion: 'I'd rather go in front of Civilian Review than Internal Affairs.' I could see why. The panel members were completely taken in by the chief's aide."

Even so, Quinn says he sees value in any CRA. "If [McManus] wants an effective CRA, he's gotta work with it--it can still be an effective tool," he says in an interview. "The chief has to be responsive to the community, and there is a need for an outlet outside of the department."

One rank-and-file cop who asked not to be identified framed the problem a little differently: "IA and CRA offer no remedy to those who feel wronged. All they get is some sort of hope that the officer might get in trouble. The civil lawsuit has become the new IAD. You can jam the cops up and get money for it. In the eyes of many, this is a great concept."

Quinn agrees up to a point. "The cost of litigating has gotten so high that it's easier for the city to settle a case for $5,000 rather than litigate it for $40,000," says Quinn, who trained new cadets when he was on the force. "More and more people are aware of that. And when the city settles, and there's no discipline, it validates the behavior of the cops involved. And it shows the young cops that this is how we do it."

It's an expensive practice. For the last three years, the city has been mired in a budget crunch, and while there have been cuts across the board, the MPD has taken some of the hardest hits. For 2005, the police department has an operating budget of $102 million, but the number of sworn officers on the payroll is at a low point. In 1998, the department had 930 street cops; by 2004, that number dwindled to 794. There are 785 sworn officers on the force now. "Frankly, we are running ourselves ragged, especially at bar close," notes William Palmer, a 12-year veteran of the force. "However, the citizens are the ones who suffer the most from the low numbers."

While it's often claimed that a diminished number of police on the streets will lead to more crime, the effect it has on police behavior is rarely discussed. Quinn, for one, says that the low numbers have made many officers "edgy" when answering even routine calls. When the proposed 2005 budget was being floated, it included layoffs and early retirements of about 43 sworn officers. The council later dug up some money to save nine officers, but the outline for budgeting through 2009 suggests the department will be staffed at levels lower than at any point since the early 1960s.

McManus has said that the budget outline leaves him about $12 million short of what he'd like to do with the department, and Don Harris says the current staffing in the Office of Professional Standards is about half of what he'd consider ideal. Last week, it was announced that some state dollars had been restored to the city's budget, and some 60 officers would be added to the force in the next year. But city finance director Pat Born warns that the money is a onetime boost, and longer-term budget issues remain unresolved. One place city leaders could theoretically look for money is in the city attorney's office. The average starting salary for a first-year Minneapolis cop is $43,080.96. But with benefits and other costs included, the city figures it spends about $65,000 annually for each sworn officer. Put another way, the $2 million in settlement proceeds paid in 2004 alone was equal to the salaries of about 31 additional officers.

 

Gayna Wiggins was returning home from the bank on October 18, 2002 at about 10:30 a.m. Traveling south on Penn Avenue, near Hawthorne Avenue, she executed a U-turn and pulled up in front of the house that she shared with her then-75-year-old mom, Rayma. Very shortly afterward, a white car pulled up behind her and a heavyset, white-haired man climbed out of the vehicle. According to court records, the man allegedly began banging on Wiggins's car window and screaming obscenities at her.

Unbeknownst to her, the man was not just any road-rager. He was homicide detective Phillip Hogquist, who routinely worked plainclothes and drove an unmarked squad car. Despite Wiggins's inquiries, the man did not identify himself. When he withdrew to his own car, she jumped out of hers and ran toward the house yelling for her mother. She got hold of a phone and called 911 with the man's plate number. It was then that Wiggins learned that the man she was dealing with was a police officer. Wiggins claimed that she then went to apologize to Hogquist, who allegedly responded by chasing her around the vehicles and calling her a "black bitch."

Shortly afterward, uniformed officer Michael Chiapetta arrived on the scene. He corralled Wiggins and placed her in the back of a squad car. Around this time, 75-year-old Rayma Wiggins approached the scene to find out what was happening. When she got close to the squad car where her daughter was being kept, Hogquist suddenly charged the old woman and shoved her to the sidewalk--"like a linebacker," in the words of Rayma Wiggins's attorney, Jeffrey Hassan. (Hogquist claimed in court documents that he shoved Wiggins because he was afraid the grandmother and retired schoolteacher would get hold of Chiapetta's gun.)

Gayna Wiggins was arrested and taken to jail. She was released the next day and never charged with any crime. Rayma Wiggins was taken to Abbott-Northwestern Hospital. Ultimately, she would need hip-replacement surgery, purportedly as a result of injuries sustained in the incident. The formerly active septuagenarian is now largely a shut-in and requires a walker to get around.

Hogquist, a storied figure in the MPD, was commonly known to colleagues as "Boss Hog." His personnel file records some colorful behavior during his more than two-decade career. In 1983 Hogquist was issued a letter of reprimand for firing his weapon--off-duty--at Hidden Beach on Cedar Lake while intoxicated. It notes that he sought treatment for chemical dependency the day after the incident. Hogquist was issued another letter of reprimand in 1986 for calling a woman a "fucking bitch" while responding to a domestic dispute call. The next year, he was again chastised for using vulgar language while interacting with a citizen. Finally, in 1991, Hogquist received another reprimand for failing to follow orders and dispersing confidential personnel information without permission.

Two eyewitnesses, both of whom are white, corroborated the Wigginses' version of events. The Wigginses filed a lawsuit in Hennepin County District Court in October 2003.

Attorney Hassan was surprised that the city didn't settle the case prior to trial. "If you see a 75-year-old grandmother who's been assaulted, it doesn't matter what your background is, you're going to feel sympathy and outrage for that person," he notes.

The jury awarded a total of $355,775.83 in damages in March 2005, the bulk of it for the injuries and medical bills incurred by Rayma.

Hogquist, however, is one officer who won't be costing the city any money in the future. He retired from the MPD in January 2003, and now lives in Texas.

A case-by-case recounting of some of the more expensive recent adventures of the MPD

How to Spend Millions Settling Lawsuits

By G.R. Anderson Jr. and Paul Demko

On 17 occasions in the past five years, the city of Minneapolis has paid out more than $50,000 in a single case to settle claims of police misconduct. City Pages examined the court records associated with 14 of these cases, as well as the personnel files of the officers involved in the incidents. (The officers involved were given the chance, through MPD spokesman Ron Reier, to comment. The only one who responded was Officer William Palmer.) The following narratives, culled from these public documents, are a sampling of the types of altercations that end up costing the city significant amounts of money.

 

Shyanna Freeman
In December 2003, the Minneapolis City Council was weighing a settlement in Shyanna Freeman's lawsuit against the city. There was more than a little reticence, since Freeman is the daughter of Alfred Flowers, who has had numerous high-profile run-ins with the police. Additionally, Alisa Clemons, sister to Flowers and Freeman's aunt, was a former Minneapolis cop who had won two separate six-figure discrimination suits against the department. Freeman herself contended that she had been roughed up by several Minneapolis cops, including Officer Gary Nelson, late on July 19, 2001, when she was 17 years old.

This history prompted council member Barbara Johnson to utter disdainfully, "It seems we have a family business going," while the council pondered a settlement figure. But regardless of where the Flowers/MPD feud started, the civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court offers a glimpse at some puzzling police behavior.

According to the complaint, Freeman and three step-siblings got off a bus at the corner of Central and 27th Avenue Northeast at about 9:45 p.m. After they crossed the street on their way home, a "gray unmarked car, without its headlights on, pulled up beside them, and the man in the driver's seat leaned over and yelled, 'Do you know I could have hit you?'" Freeman's complaint contends that the man, in street clothes, was Officer Nelson. He allegedly asked Freeman for a state ID and eventually got out of the car and rifled through her purse. According to the complaint, he never identified himself as a police officer.

From there confusion and a scuffle ensued, with Nelson allegedly throwing Freeman, a national honor society student, up against the car and then striking her head against the car door frame while putting her in the back seat. Freeman asked a passerby to go get her father, Flowers. When Flowers arrived, Nelson called for backup, and six squads came to the scene. Shyanna Freeman was eventually handcuffed and taken to Hennepin County jail for fingerprints and mug shots. She was charged with "obstructing legal process" and released, though a city attorney dismissed the citation because "the officer was in an unmarked squad car and obstructing couldn't be proved." (Nelson's personnel and internal affairs files contain no mention of the incident.)

Though Freeman sustained no permanent physical injuries, City Council members got over their misgivings, swallowed hard, and settled with Freeman to the tune of $180,000.

 

James Strickling
The civil complaint of James A. Strickling vs. the City of Minneapolis offers little help in clarifying the events of December 8, 1999. Without providing a storyline, the complaint alleges that Strickling suffered multiple injuries to his chest, neck, back, and groin. He also apparently suffered "severe facial and eye injuries, including the loss of an eye."

The MPD's recitation of the facts of the case states that at 4:40 p.m., Officers Sean McGinty and Mark Bohnsack arrived at 3546 Girard Avenue North on a stabbing call. They arrived to find a party of 12 to 15 people upstairs in the house. One partygoer, Anthony Range, was bleeding profusely from the chest. Range claimed that Sheila Strickling, wife of the plaintiff, had stabbed him. He later changed his story, claiming that James Strickling had stabbed him. Yet Range and the two Stricklings, according to the defendant's statement, refused to come downstairs, away from the party. Soon, three other officers arrived at the scene.

Once upstairs, the officers ordered everyone facedown on the floor, "unsure who the suspect or suspects were, or which of the people present were armed." The MPD's version of events claims that one person at the party said the Stricklings and Range "had consumed vodka, a large amount of beer, and smoked crack cocaine during the afternoon." Thinking James Strickling had a weapon, Officer Andrew Stender attempted to subdue him, which he tried to do by kicking Strickling's feet out from under him. Two other cops got involved as Strickling fell to the ground, hitting his eye on an electric space heater. After a struggle, Stender eventually handcuffed Strickling. The eyewitness claimed Strickling had "jumped" at Stender. (The eyewitness's account was later discredited, on grounds she'd given police a fake name.) Sheila Strickling was arrested for stabbing Range.

Stender, who joined the MPD in March 1992, was suspended in May 2004 for 80 hours, without pay. (The union later filed a grievance and the suspension was reduced to one day.) According to his personnel file, Stender had violated "a procedural code of conduct" by giving out "confidential information regarding prisoners in confinement, suspects in a case, property held, or records of the Department."

The rest of the officers involved have clean records; no officer was disciplined over the Strickling matter. The city settled, handing over $85,000 to James Strickling.

 

John Hagen
On May 23, 2002, Minneapolis police officer William Palmer responded to a call shortly before 11:00 p.m. that reported suspicious activity inside Annunciation School in the Windom neighborhood. Upon arriving, Palmer encountered John Hagen, the school's night janitor. Hagen was just locking up when the squad car pulled up behind him.

According to the civil complaint filed by Hagen in U.S. District Court, Palmer exited the squad car with his weapon drawn and demanded that the custodian clasp his hands behind his head and face the wall. Hagen immediately obeyed and informed the officer that he worked at the school.

Despite Hagen's compliance, according to the complaint, Palmer proceeded to grab Hagen's hands and hair and yank them downward. At the same time he planted his knee in the back of the custodian's legs. The force was sufficient to rip hair from Hagen's head and injure his shoulder, neck, and back.

After requiring Hagen to sit in the squad car for five to ten minutes, Palmer released him. He was never arrested or charged with any crime.

The next day Hagen visited the emergency room at Fairview Southdale Hospital and was found to have a herniated disc in his back and a torn rotator cuff. Over the ensuing months, Hagen alleges in court documents, he incurred $34,000 in medical bills. More than a year after the altercation with the officer, he was still unable to return to his $11.75 an hour job owing to the injuries.

"Hagen attempted to file a complaint with the Internal Affairs division of the Minneapolis Police Department," according to one court filing by Hagen, "but was, as is almost always the case, rebuffed in that attempt."

Palmer defends his actions. "The frisking technique is what Mr. Hagen's attorney alleged to have caused the reported injury to Mr. Hagen," Palmer writes in an e-mail, noting that Hagen was "cordial and completely compliant." "I have used that technique throughout 11 and a half years on the street and Mr. Hagen is the first person to complain of injury as a result."

Even so, according to court records and his personnel file, Palmer has a history of notable incidents. In 2001 the 12-year veteran of the force was ordered to participate in "anger management" counseling after kicking his squad car hard enough to damage the vehicle. The next year he was suspended for 20 hours and again ordered into counseling for violating department policies on use of force. In that incident, while transporting three individuals in the back of his squad car, Palmer had slammed on the brakes of his squad car, causing one of the handcuffed suspects to slam into the Plexiglas shield and cut his eye. (This practice is known in cop parlance as "waffling.")

Palmer has also been involved in a couple of incidents in which suspects died. In May 1997, a demented 38-year-old homeless man named Stewart Dogan died after a physical altercation with Palmer and another officer. The cause of death was ultimately deemed to be a cocaine-induced heart attack, and both officers were exonerated of any wrongdoing.

Then in June 2000, Palmer was involved in the fatal shooting of another mentally ill person, Barbara Schneider. When officers arrived at Schneider's residence, she was brandishing a knife and screaming about Satan. There were six cops on the scene, and Palmer was one of two to fire his weapon. That shooting was ultimately ruled legitimate by department brass. However, there is a pending case in U.S. District Court regarding the Schneider incident.

In February of last year, the City Council agreed to settle the Hagen case by paying him $327,375.

 

Jessica Streich
Officer Jeffrey Boeltl was working the "party" car in the early morning hours of November 3, 2002. Such a patrol had been requested by residents of the Como neighborhood owing to the large number of college parties in the area.

Shortly before 2:00 a.m. Boeltl, who has been on the force since 1991, was dispatched to investigate a complaint about noise emanating from a tent set up near Como Avenue and the railroad tracks. Upon arriving, the officer began breaking up the Halloween party, informing people that they had to go home. Many of the revelers then retreated to a nearby house on 21st Avenue Southeast.

When Boeltl approached the house, he was met at the door by Jessica Streich, who was a guest at the party. According to Streich, she had been drinking moderately, consuming approximately four drinks in the previous four hours. The then-33-year-old pharmacist asked the officer if he had a warrant. According to the complaint subsequently filed by Streich in U.S. District Court, his response was, "I don't need one." Around this time, Boeltl had been joined by another cop, Michael Roberts.

The officers informed the partygoers, all of whom were of legal drinking age, that they needed to disperse immediately. Streich protested that many of the people had been drinking, weren't fit to drive, and intended to stay the night. Her arguments fell on deaf ears, however. The cops allegedly refused even to allow people to call cabs.

At some point during this dispute, according to her complaint, Streich was grabbed by Boeltl and Roberts and dragged down the back steps of the house. At the bottom of the steps she reached back to grab a handrail with her left hand. According to court documents, Boeltl responded by violently grabbing her right arm. Everyone heard a pop. It was immediately evident that Streich's arm had been broken. At this point Streich's sister-in-law, who was also present at the party, began screaming: "Oh my god, what happened?"

Streich was dispatched to Fairview University Medical Center. She was diagnosed with a fractured humerus, the largest bone in the arm. Streich eventually underwent surgery, during which a metal plate and screws were inserted into her arm. Her medical bills totaled between $15,000 and $20,000.

Streich sued Roberts, Boeltl, and the city of Minneapolis in U.S. District Court in January 2003. Roberts, however, was subsequently dropped as a defendant. Boeltl's personnel file shows no disciplinary history, other than a letter of caution for a driving infraction more than a decade ago. In April 2004, the city agreed to pay Streich $235,000.

 

Wayne and Danielle Long Crow, et al.
On Sunday, September 15, 2002, at least a dozen Minneapolis police officers executed a no-knock search warrant at a residence in the Phillips neighborhood. At approximately 10:00 a.m., the cops broke into the three-story house by crashing through a glass door. Most of the eight people staying at the home, all of whom were American Indian, were asleep at the time. The search warrant had been authorized in order to look for drugs.

In a complaint subsequently filed in U.S. District Court, the plaintiffs claimed the officers proceeded to assault and humiliate the residents while scouring the house for more than three hours. Elizabeth Hill and Wayne Long Crow were sleeping in a single bed on the third floor of the residence when the officers entered. Long Crow had his hands raised in the air when an unnamed officer allegedly struck his head with the butt end of a rifle, opening a bloody gash in his scalp. He was dispatched by the cops to Hennepin County Medical Center for treatment.

Sleeping in the other bedroom on the third floor was Lonnie High Rock. He'd been drinking the previous night and did not wake up when the officers entered the residence. According to the complaint, officers began beating him with a baton and a rifle until he awoke and stood up. The unnamed officers then charged at High Rock, knocking him to the ground and handcuffing him.

Danielle Long Crow was taking a shower on the second floor of the residence at the time the warrant was executed. She was eight months pregnant. Several officers stormed the bathroom with a battering ram. The complaint alleges that an unnamed officer proceeded to grab Long Crow by the neck and throw her down on her stomach. Nude and pregnant, she was forced to stay on her stomach for approximately 15 minutes. She too was dispatched to Hennepin County Medical Center to be treated for injuries, including abdominal trauma.

The complaint documents allegations that other people present at the raid were similarly abused and humiliated. Shirley Groskruetz was kicked in the head. Her husband's head was sliced open by broken glass after he was thrown to the floor. Kurt LaPointe was kicked in the ribs.

Despite this rough treatment, attempts to locate drugs in the house were initially fruitless. The complaint goes on to claim that the officers then retired to the kitchen to watch a football game. Around this time, Officer Michael Kaneko arrived at the residence. He directed one of the officers to inspect a toy box in the living room that had previously been searched. Inside the officers allegedly found "Mexican crack cocaine." The complaint claims that this evidence was planted by Kaneko. None of the people present during the search have been prosecuted for possession of drugs discovered during the search.

Kaneko's personnel file reveals no disciplinary history. Some of the other officers involved in the search, however, have occasionally been punished for breaking the rules. Officer Victor Mills was issued a letter of reprimand in March of this year for violating department policies on use of force. In 2000, officer Richard Thomas was suspended for two days for ignoring guidelines regarding impartial policing and computer use. He was also required to attend training seminars on "gender communication" and "respect in the workplace." Sgt. Robert Kroll was demoted for three months in 2003 for "ethical violations." And in 1994 Kroll was initially suspended for five days for excessive use of force, but that decision was later overturned by then-Chief John Laux.

No officers were disciplined for their actions during the raid on the Phillips residence. The city settled the case last year for $60,000.

 

Kamyar Farahan
Roughly a month after the World Trade Center attacks in September 2001, Kamyar Farahan was pulled over by the police at 5th Street South and Marquette Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The officers who made the traffic stop were Robert Mooney and Patrick McCarver.

According to Farahan's version of events, detailed in a complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court in May 2002, the officers proceeded to assault and mace Farahan after he protested what he believed to be an illegal search of his vehicle. During the altercation he suffered a broken nose, a deviated septum, and lost 70 percent of the vision in his right eye. In addition, the officers repeatedly disparaged Farahan, who is Jewish, for what they believed to be his Arab ethnic background. During the arrest one of the officers allegedly announced, "We've got Osama's brother here." The cops also asked Farahan and his passenger, Puya Doustan, if they had any anthrax and stated that it looked like they wore diapers on their heads.

Farahan was arrested and booked into the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center. According to the civil complaint, police officers continued to harass him at the jail. He was allegedly called a "rag head" and a "towel head." At another point, according to Farahan, one of the officers proclaimed that they had prevented a jihad by arresting him.

The officers denied that they engaged in any such ethnic harassment. They further stated that Farahan was only maced after he spit on officer Mooney. Farahan was initially charged with assault, assault in the fifth degree, disorderly conduct, driving without a license, and possession of marijuana. All but the last charge, however, were subsequently dismissed.

Farahan's civil case against the police department was originally slated for trial in March of this year. But two weeks before the scheduled court date, the Southwest Hennepin Drug Task Force executed a search warrant on Farahan's apartment in Minnetonka. According to the warrant, police officers believed (based on the testimony of a confidential informant) that Farahan was dealing methamphetamine or crack cocaine.

The search, however, turned up far less. The only charge brought against Farahan stemming from the warrant was a petty misdemeanor count for possession of marijuana. That charge was subsequently dropped. In court pleadings, Farahan's attorney speculated that the search was retaliation for filing a lawsuit against the MPD.

Farahan's civil case never made it to trial. The city of Minneapolis settled the matter in April by paying him $90,000.

 

Kevin Buford
Call it the case of the parking-ramp pisser. Around 8:30 p.m. on May 12, 1999, Kevin Leroy Buford says he got off a bus in downtown Minneapolis and went to look for the public restroom in the Dayton's-Radisson parking complex. There he encountered Steven Tatro, an off-duty Minneapolis police officer working security in the ramp. According to the federal complaint filed on behalf of Buford, Tatro refused to allow Buford to use the restroom.

Buford left the ramp with the intention, according to the complaint, of urinating in a nearby alley. Tatro, according to the complaint, followed Buford and threw his flashlight at him. Tatro then pulled out his handcuffs and started whipping Buford in the face and head with the cuffs, eventually landing a punch on Buford's jaw. Other officers arrived at the scene and--after allegedly holding back a crowd of onlookers--took Buford to Hennepin County Medical Center. There, he had fragments of three shattered teeth and pieces of bone removed from his jaw.

The Civilian Review Authority and the MPD's Internal Affairs department both found that Tatro, who began his career with the department in September 1995, had used excessive force. Further, Tatro's police report denied that he had repeatedly struck Buford, but parking lot surveillance tape revealed that he had. By April 2000, the MPD had canned Tatro.

In a strange twist, however, Tatro and Buford ended up on the same side of the subsequent court maneuvers, both claiming that the city of Minneapolis was responsible for the incident. After Tatro's employment was terminated, the city refused to represent him in court--or "indemnify" him--claiming that his actions were so egregious that they were not in line with his duties as a police officer or an employee of the city. Lawyers for both men sued. In the federal complaint, Buford's lawyer argues "that the actions of the Minneapolis City Council in flatly refusing to indemnify Officer Tatro have as their purpose the aim, goal, and effect of refusing and denying Buford any meaningful remedy for his claims against Officer Tatro."

As both cases made their way through the courts, the city of Minneapolis continued to protest. His superior assigned to review the case, Doug Belton, and then-Chief Robert Olson testified that Tatro, whose prior personnel record was clean, was not entitled to defense or indemnification. Tatro never succeeded in compelling the city to defend him, but one judge ruled that he was acting as a police officer and therefore the city was liable for his actions. In 2003, the city settled with Kevin Buford, paying $125,000 to a man who just had to pee.

 

Robert Greenberg
Robert Greenberg had been arrested twice on misdemeanor charges related to civil disobedience by the time he participated in the so-called "May Day protest" on May 1, 2000. The massive WTO protests in Seattle had taken place six months earlier; subsequent gatherings around the country were marked by a heavy police presence, and many believed law enforcement agencies were gathering and sharing intelligence on groups involved in the actions. By the end of May Day, Greenberg had been arrested a third time and, he claimed later in a lawsuit, been badly beaten by several Minneapolis police officers.

According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court, several demonstrators were participating in a "labor picket and protest" outside the Minneapolis Hilton hotel on 11th Street and Marquette Avenue downtown. At 11:20 a.m., someone bumped into Greenberg and blocked his path. The person was later identified as David Menter, a Minneapolis police officer working in plain clothes. According to the complaint, Menter continued to block Greenberg's path, and then "at least three other undercover officers" jumped Greenberg and threw him into a nearby alley. "Since the officers were not wearing uniforms and did not identify themselves as police," the complaint continues, "plaintiff did not at first realize he was being assaulted by police officers."

Greenberg suffered severe injuries to his back, neck, and shoulders from the skirmish, and after he was handcuffed, "one of the officers squeezed Plaintiff's testicles at least two times and then shoved his testicles into his body."

An additional document filed during the suit claimed that the MPD held a briefing for all officers prior to the demonstration: "Lt. Scott Gerlicher, the coordinator of the response to the demonstration, circulated to other officers several photographs of several people who he identified as likely leaders of the demonstration," including one of Greenberg. During the pretrial period, neither the city nor Gerlicher produced any documents or evidence showing that they had prior information on Greenberg. Nevertheless, the complaint concludes, "police officers involved in the protest state that they were ordered to arrest the people in the photographs for any offense that they observed."

Gerlicher is a veteran who joined the force in April 1989. His record shows three separate squad accidents, a letter of reprimand questioning whether an arrest he made inside a suspect's apartment was legal, and a two-day suspension for a sustained complaint of "excessive force." He was recently promoted to inspector and is the commander of the city's Third Precinct.

Another officer in the Greenberg case, Kris Arneson, also has a lengthy employment history with the MPD, going back to January 1986. Her personnel file shows many commendations, along with a letter of reprimand for "inappropriate language." She was recently put in charge of the city's Fifth Precinct. Officer Andrew Stender has been involved in at least one other major payout the city had to make (see Long Crow, *above) but nevertheless has a clean record.

None of them, or any other officers, were disciplined in the Greenberg matter, even though he was arrested but never charged with any crime. The city eventually settled out of court in 2003, paying him $75,000.

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