Report: rampant corruption within Metro Gang Strike Force

The Department of Public Safety today released its long-awaited report on the infamous Metro Gang Strike Force... and it ain't pretty.

The Metro Gang Strike Force, you might recall, first attracted state officials' attention in the spring after it was discovered that the unit was doing a suspiciously shitty job of keeping track of valuable evidence seized in the field. On the day officials announced a more thorough probe would soon be underway, members made haste to Strike Force's New Brighton offices and shredded documents.

Today's finding confirms even the worst suspicions.

For starters, the Strike Force, contrary to its name, wasn't dedicated to fighting gangs. At least not as "gangs" are commonly defined. Rather, Strike Force members seemed to take "gang members" to mean "any person of color." The Strike Force "saturated" (their term) predominately black neighborhoods where arresting officers had free reign to do... well, pretty much anything. Teenagers carrying small baggies of personal-use pot--normally a $200 misdemeanor, if anything--had their wallets/money confiscated by the men in blue, ostensibly for evidence.   On many occasions, according to the report, officers accosted law-abiding residents and went through their cell phones, the Fourth Amendment be damned. In addition, Strike Force members snapped makeshift mug shots of numerous individuals, despite lacking evidence to charge them with anything.

"These photographs included pictures of children and others with no known gang connections," reads the report.

The looting went well beyond shaking down the occasional 15-year-old pot smoker of his/her pocket change. During searches and seizures, officers routinely confiscated, for their own personal use, highly valuable goodies that had little-to-nothing to do with the accompanying charges. The plunders included flat-screen televisions, lap tops, jewelry, and jet skis-- items "officers and their family members were permitted to purchase, at low prices," according to the findings.

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines gang as "a group of persons working to unlawful or antisocial ends." The Metro Gang Strike Force, this report makes clear, was precisely that.   Here's a run-down of the Department of Public Safety's findings:

Evidence Issues

1. Employees, including sworn officers, repeatedly took property obtained during searches for their own personal use. These items included, among other things, flat screen and large screen televisions, laptops and other computer equipment, electronics, jewelry and recreational items. On a few occasions, officers returned property to the Strike Force offices when others made an issue of their conduct. Some of the items removed by officers for their personal use were items that were stolen by a defendant in a case, and could have been returned to their rightful owner.

2. On a number of occasions, officers or their family members were permitted to purchase, at low prices, items from the evidence room including flat screen and large screen televisions, jet skis, a trailer and other items.

3. Substantial quantities of evidence that should still be in the evidence room are missing. These include televisions, electronic equipment, computer equipment, recreational items and jewelry.

4. A large number of valuable items found both in and outside of the evidence room are falsely reported to have been destroyed in Strike Force case files.

5. Many items that were seized by the Strike Force, including narcotics, were never entered into evidence and were found in the offices outside of the evidence room.

6. Certain items, such as two firearms, were found outside of the evidence room and cannot be traced to any individual case.

• Issues Related to Interactions With Individuals

1. Members of the Strike Force engaged in "saturation" details that originally involved providing a law enforcement presence at locations where suspected gang members were expected to congregate. Over time, these saturation details grew to include stops of individuals who had no connection to gang activity, along with searches of these individuals and seizures of money and property.

2. As the saturation details grew to include stops that were not gang-related, Strike Force officers began to seize funds from those stopped, regardless of any intent to file charges against the people stopped and without regard to whether the funds could reasonably be connected to illegal activity.

3. On a number of occasions, individuals stopped during these saturation details were in possession of small amounts of marijuana, amounts associated with personal use. Invariably, when money was found during one of these searches - whether the person possessed marijuana or not - the money was taken by the Strike Force officers.

4. Many of the files we reviewed included no information to suggest that the people stopped and searched had any gang connection or that they could provide the officers with gang-related information.

5. On repeated occasions during these saturation detail stops, Strike Force officers searched the cell phones of the individuals who were stopped. Many of these individuals were not arrested, but merely stopped on the street or at an event. Officers searched their cell phones without a warrant.

6. Strike Force officers regularly required individuals stopped during saturation details to be photographed with Metro Gang Strike Force identification placed in the picture. These photographs included pictures of children and others with no known gang connections.

7. During searches conducted pursuant to lawfully obtained warrants, Strike Force officers often seized money and personal items (including televisions, computer equipment and jewelry) that, based on our review, bore no relation to the matter under investigation and could not be tied to criminal activity. On at least one occasion, seized property was later ordered returned but was missing from the Strike Force offices.

If you can stomach it, read the full report here.

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