Taking the Third

A FEDERAL INVESTIGATION currently underway at the Minneapolis Police Department may shed unprecedented light on some of the department's darker corners. The inquiry, which is being conducted by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office, is said to be centered on affairs at the Southeast Minneapolis Third Precinct, where a number of officers have been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury. By some accounts, up to 25 cops have been or will be summoned before the panel.

Official sources are steadfastly mum about what's going on, but word around the MPD is that one of the keys to the investigation is former officer Anthony Barragan. Barragan is the cop who was captured on a security videotape beating a handcuffed rape suspect in November 1995 and subsequently fired by Chief Bob Olson in January 1996. The gross misdemeanor charges initially filed against Barragan were later dropped in lieu of federal civil rights charges, and last month one of the federal charges (from a separate November 1995 incident) was dropped in exchange for a March 7 agreement, per court documents, to "provide substantial assistance in the investigation... of police misconduct."

Barragan does not appear anxious to go down alone. In cop circles these days, it is rumored that he's supplied the feds with a journal of police indiscretions listing names and dates and times and places. The purported offenses range from police harassment of citizens and co-workers to brutality to robbery--the latter category including such things as the routine shakedown of drug dealers and the pilfering of property from crime scenes. He is reportedly fingering some supervisory personnel as well as beat cops. The Third Precinct has been notorious for its rumored extracurricular activities for a very long time. In 1994, two Third Precinct patrol officers agreed to resign as part of a plea bargain after they were caught extorting cash from a driver who allegedly had been drinking. The pair actually let the man drive to his Bloomington hotel to get the money; they followed in their squad car.

The Third "has always operated as the loose cannons in the department," according to one source close to the PD. "It's the precinct on an island, and it's always played by a little bit different rules, particularly after the Haaf shooting. Management has taken its shots at putting different inspectors in that precinct, but when you've got a core group of people with the same mindset, you're not going to change things a lot." One of the key players at the Third over the past several years is the just-reinstated Lt. Mike Sauro, who to date has cost the city around $2 million in misconduct settlements and legal costs. Barragan, who joined the force in July 1993, spent about a year and a half at the Third before he was fired. If he really kept a journal, he could have quite a story to tell.

Just how much Barragan has, or what the feds may have besides him, is not clear. Nor is it clear how far the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office really want to go. Impeaching the credibility of police agencies is hardly their favorite pastime, but there are careers to be considered; most to the point, that of U.S. Attorney David Lillehaug, who would still like to be a judge and needs some rehabilitation toward that end, especially where civil rights are concerned. The happiest outcome, from an official perspective, would be the prosecution of a small batch of bad apples. Then Lillehaug, with any luck, could toddle off to an appellate judgeship, and the Third most likely would get back to business as usual.

THE PAUL FOR President juggernaut rolled along on its stealthy, circumspect way last week. Wellstone was in New York last Tuesday and Wednesday for a pair of auditions, the first a reception at the home of Bill vanden Heuvel, an old state Democratic pol (and pere of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel), which was attended by an assortment of establishment liberal Dems. The next day it was off to lunch with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and friends. There was no question that Wellstone was testing the waters for a run, and no pretense to the contrary. The verdict of the mandarins seemed to be that Wellstone was a nice guy with a good heart and nothing much to say programmatically--no ideas about cities, for instance.

There was reportedly a sense of alarm at both gatherings regarding Wellstone's failure to articulate an organizing strategy. This has always been his strong suit, so it's hard not to infer trepidation from his irresolution on the matter. Last week's column by George Will in Newsweek, deriding Wellstone for the timidity of his vision, probably did nothing to bolster candidate Paul's spirits, either. It is an index of Wellstone's misdirection that he now is regularly seen in the company of Dick Goodwin, the ex-Kennedy speechwriter and hanger-on who at this point is probably best known as the real-life referent of the character played by Rob Morrow in Quiz Show. Now there's what Wellstone needs--a quiz show scandal. Then he could take a strong stand against cheating.

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