Shoot from the Lip
It's a week after the comment—the off-the-cuff, spur-of-the-moment comment that got him into so much trouble—and Lt. Bob Kroll is still trying to explain why he said it.
Sitting at his desk at the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation (he's vice president of the union), Kroll wears a Minnesota Wild jersey, sports a neatly trimmed mustache, and has the kind of build that wouldn't be out of place on an NHL rink. He speaks bluntly, and occasionally blushes with embarrassment.
It all started at a department ethics class, with about 20 other police officers, at the Minneapolis Northeast Armory. As Kroll tells it, he made a reference to the United States being at war with "Islamic terrorists." He then alluded to a certain congressman from north Minneapolis who happens to be Muslim.
That's when officer Gwen Gunter spoke up: "Are you calling Keith Ellison a terrorist?"
Their voices raised and soon the two were separated and silenced by the city attorney, who was conducting the class.
But that wasn't the end of it. Word of the incident spread quickly within the MPD and City Hall. By the end of the week, Kroll's spontaneous comment was front-page news.
The response from city leaders was swift. MPD Chief Tim Dolan sent an email to the entire department just two days later, on March 1.
"The alleged comments, if they in fact occurred, are unacceptable," the chief wrote. "[C]alling Representative Keith Ellison a terrorist is a prejudicial statement. The comment not only offends a U.S. representative...it offends our own officers of Muslim faith."
Dolan called for an investigation from the MPD's Internal Affairs Department. The city's Human Resources Department is conducting a separate investigation. Reportedly, Mayor R.T. Rybak expressed displeasure over the incident, as did a number of City Council members.
Yet for all the hand-wringing, few can say they were surprised. Especially considering Kroll's history on the force.
"This is consistent with the ignorance and arrogance of his life on the street," says Ron Edwards, a longtime MPD observer and chair of the city's Police Community Relations Council. "Robert Kroll's nightstick and boots have come into contact with many persons of color in this town."
Indeed, Kroll owns a lengthy record of brutishness.
In 1995, he was accused of kicking, beating, chocking, and using racial slurs against a 15-year-old boy. But a federal grand jury cleared him of any wrongdoing.
In 1996, Kroll oversaw an Emergency Response Unit that performed a botched drug raid. In the ensuing confusion, one MPD officer was shot by his own colleagues. (See "Friendly Fire," CP 9/9/1997.)
In September 2002, Kroll was involved in an incident that eventually led to a city payout of $60,000. (See "The Hit Parade Revisited," CP 7/20/2005.)
And in December, the city attorney recommended Minneapolis pay $15,000 to settle a suit accusing Kroll of beating and kicking a suspect in an impound lot downtown in February 2004.
"Bob Kroll's record in dealing with minorities speaks for itself," says former MPD cop Mike Quinn.
Kroll also has a track record with the Civilian Review Authority, the citizens' board that investigates complaints against Minneapolis police officers. According to the website for Communities United Against Police Brutality, there have been 17 allegations of misconduct against Kroll, but he was cleared in all but one of them.
As a result of that case, which involved an off-duty fight, Kroll was suspended for 20 days last month. According to nine eyewitnesses' statements in the CRA file, the scene went something like this:
Jack Mahaffey had been crossing the street in front of Dusty's bar on Marshall Street Northeast after 10:00 p.m. on a Friday night during the Art-a-Whirl gallery crawl. Mahaffey was a little tipsy, and his backpack hit a car. Two men dressed in jeans and T-shirts got out and confronted Mahaffey, punched him, threw him on the ground, and hit his head on the sidewalk.
As Mahaffey's friends rushed to help, the two men taunted them: "Bring it on" and "Come and get me, motherfucker," according to the file. Mahaffey's sister Flora was punched, and another friend was kicked in the face.
A passerby who was coming home from a shift as a loss-prevention officer at a nearby Rainbow Foods called 911 to break up the melee. After the other officers arrived, Mahaffey and his friends learned a shocking fact: The two assailants were off-duty MPD officers.
One of them was Kroll. According to the police report, Kroll and Wallace Krueger received medical treatment at the scene as "police victims," and Jack Mahaffey was charged with fourth degree assault, starting a riot, and damage to a motor vehicle. Kroll and Krueger walked away; Mahaffey spent the weekend in jail.
Eventually, charges against Mahaffey were dismissed, and he pursued a complaint with the CRA. Nearly three years later, the complaint was sustained, but Brian Mahaffey–Jack's father—is anything but appeased by the response he got from the city.
"I've seen nothing from the police department that indicates this is a big deal," Brian says. "How can he even still be on the force with behavior like this? Do we wait until Kroll gets cocked again and just wait for him to go off?"
Kroll defends his actions in the incident. "Wally and I were driving down the street and somebody flagged Wally down and damaged his vehicle," the lieutenant says. "Then all of his friends were attacking us."
Kroll declines to discuss other specific cases, but he denies any wrongdoing. "The persona of me is that I'm some big boogeyman," he says. "I've been told I'm racist, and I'm violent. I'm aware of that. I've been 15 of my 18 in SWAT, and I've had more complaints than most, but I've had much higher contacts, and a much higher number of arrests.... I've been cleared almost all the time."
The public portion of his MPD personnel file shows four letters of reprimand since he joined the force in 1989—at least two of which were tied to separate Internal Affairs investigations of him—and one suspension in 1994. (He was cleared on one of the IA complaints, but another was sustained in part for "failure to provide name/badge number.") Kroll was promoted to sergeant in 1994, but was "involuntarily demoted" in March 2003 related to complaints involving "code of conduct" and "duties of supervisors." (His rank was reinstated three months later.)
Kroll admits he's had a longtime beef with Ellison, who was an active defense attorney on the North Side before entering politics. "He's anti-police, and he once made a baseless complaint against me to internal affairs," Kroll says.
So does Kroll really think Ellison is a terrorist?
Does he have a problem with Islam?
But does he regret what he said?
Kroll doesn't hesitate: "No."
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