Another Day in North Minneapolis

On Tuesday afternoon, April 18, James Jones was tending to his north Minneapolis T-shirt shop at the busy commercial intersection of Lowry and Emerson avenues in the city's Hawthorne neighborhood. Shortly before 4:00 p.m., Jones saw a police car pull up onto the curb across the street from his shop.

A group of mostly teenage males was gathered on the sidewalk near the intersection. As soon as the squad car appeared, they scattered. "This is during rush-hour traffic too," notes Jones, recalling the incident a week later. "So cars are everywhere."

It soon became clear that the lone officer was after one young man in particular, who initially fled south on Emerson. The young man then doubled back and ran across Lowry. The pursuit quickly came to a halt, eyewitnesses say, directly in front of Jones's storefront on the north side of the street. According to the 40-year-old Jones, whose shop is called 4Gz Clothing, the suspect—subsequently identified as Norman Parker, 18—put his hands in the air. The officer, later identified by an MPD incident report as Jeffrey Binfet, exited the squad car with his gun drawn, ordering Parker to the ground.

But according to Jones and at least one other witness at the scene, the officer kicked Parker in the face as the suspect started to get on his knees. "[Parker] did almost a 360," recalls Jones. The officer then jumped on Parker, who, according to the incident report, was wanted on suspicion of armed robbery. As Jones describes it, the suspect's head hit the pavement at least four times during the fracas and was covered in blood.

"They said the boy was resisting arrest," Jones says with disgust. "The boy couldn't have resisted arrest because he was stupid from the first kick in the face. Understand what I'm saying? He didn't have no marbles or anything."

Denise Parker (no relation to the suspect) witnessed the confrontation from Diamond Nails, a salon next door to Jones's shop, and corroborates much of Jones's account of what happened. "The cop started hitting on him, hitting on him real bad, pushing him into the concrete, and the guy wasn't even doing anything," she recalls. "The guy did what he was supposed to do."

She says the damage to Parker's face was visible and extensive. "He was really bloody, and his face was swollen," she says.

After the initial confrontation with Parker, at least three other officers arrived on the scene. Parker was then placed in a squad car and driven, according to the incident report, to a hospital for medical treatment. As of Monday, he had not been charged with any crime related to the altercation.

News of the incident spread quickly on the street—employees and regulars of the string of businesses near the intersection readily confirm that something happened on that Tuesday afternoon. The next evening, the matter came up at the Police Community Relations Council meeting at the Urban League on the North Side. When community representatives raised questions about the incident, none of the roughly 10 members of the MPD present at the meeting denied that an altercation had occurred. The conversation, in fact, centered on whether MPD brass had been properly notified.

"I didn't get notified until this morning," Deputy Chief Lucy Gerold confirmed at the meeting. "We didn't know until there was some kind of exam, a level of assessment on his condition at the hospital."

PCRC members wanted to know whether Parker was still unconscious, as had been rumored. "He was conscious and was interviewed by investigators last night," Lt. Mike Davis noted. They wanted to know the charge on which Parker had been arrested.

"To my knowledge," Davis responded, "he has not been charged."

Norman Parker, through inquiries with various family members, declined to be interviewed by City Pages. But a trip to North Memorial Medical Center confirmed that Parker had been admitted and treated. In fact, he was not discharged until three days after the confrontation on Lowry, which seems to indicate that he required substantial medical attention.

Interim MPD Chief Tim Dolan has opened an internal investigation into the matter, and concedes that Parker's status was concerning. "He had a medical condition previously," Dolan asserts. The chief claims that Parker's condition worsened after he was admitted to the hospital. PCRC members who visited Parker at North Memorial say that Parker's status at one point changed from "serious" to "critical" because of suspected bleeding on the brain. "[Parker] said he didn't remember anything that happened after a boot came down on his head," says one PCRC member who asked not to be named. "He had concrete burns and bruises on the right side of his face, and his left eye was swollen shut and protruding. You looked at him and you said, 'Damn, he's really jacked up.'"

Dolan says that officers routinely take suspects to the hospital for any physical condition that might prevent someone from being booked into jail. By 10:00 p.m. on that Tuesday, Dolan declared the episode a "critical incident," which means that an investigation is immediately opened and the officer involved is put on three-day paid leave. Binfet was on leave for two days before Dolan decided he could return to work. Dolan says the matter is still being investigated, but notes that Parker has twice been interviewed by the police, and "he had nothing to say."

Jeffrey Binfet has been an MPD officer since 1992, spending most of that time patrolling the Fourth Precinct, which encompasses all of north Minneapolis. According to personnel records, Binfet has never been suspended or disciplined for his conduct on the job. In August 1999 he was named the Fourth Precinct's "officer of the month." (Binfet did not respond to a message left at the precinct seeking comment. MPD spokesman Ron Reier says officers are forbidden from commenting while an internal investigation is open.)

Binfet has been a defendant in at least one federal lawsuit. In 1997, he and fellow officer Brian Miller were sued in U.S. District Court by Aasim Shabazz for alleged civil rights violations. That case was settled out of court, with the city agreeing to pay the plaintiff $25,000, along with $27,500 in attorneys fees.

Parker is no stranger to the MPD. According to police spokesman Reier, the 18-year-old has been arrested five times since becoming an adult last August. Records maintained by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, however, show no adult convictions. And according to the Hennepin County attorney's office, he has no cases pending against him.

Adil Abosaad, the owner of E&L Market on the northeast corner of Lowry and Emerson, talks of recurring troubles with clusters of young men on the sidewalks near his store, where they "sell weed and crack," he says.

"Those guys disappear in the morning, but they know what time the police officers finish their shifts," says Abosaad, who has been in business for 12 years. "After 3:00 o'clock, they show up because they know those officers are not around. Me and other businesses next door, we call and call and nobody responds."

On April 18, though, Abosaad says he heard that someone called 911, and the police came. He claims that there was a long chase that had Parker running to a parking lot across the street, and returning, eventually making it just two doors east of his business. Abosaad insists he did not see anything beyond that, and claims the cops told him the suspect had a gun. "If you have nothing to hide," Abosaad asks, "why are you running?"

Not everyone is as nonchalant about the incident, however. "Everybody saw it," Denise Parker notes. "I was just in the nail shop getting my nails done, and everybody stopped and ran to the window. There were crowds forming out on the sidewalk. Everybody saw what was going on. It was very bad. I've seen stuff like this before, but this was very bad, very unnecessary."

Jones, the T-shirt shop owner, acknowledges that drug dealing is a problem in the area. "They do got a problem with those guys hanging out there, but that's not a way to solve it," he says. "Why would I call [the police] to see that again?"

Jones intends to make T-shirts emblazoned with an image of Parker's injuries. The caption? "Compliments of the MPD."