Terrance Franklin wrongful death lawsuit makes explosive claims about racism in MPD
The MPD says it was self-defense. An attorney representing Franklin's family says it was murder.
A wrongful death lawsuit pertaining to the officer-involved shooting of Terrance Franklin on May 9 of last year alleges that racist cops executed Franklin, then engaged in a campaign intended to cover up their wrongdoing by publicly demonizing him.
The lawsuit, which is expected to be filed today, doesn't present much hard evidence to back up its explosive claims. Front and center to its case is the so-called "Gaines Video," a one-minute clip shot by someone standing across from the street from the south Minneapolis basement where Franklin was holed up as cops stormed the house. (Watch the video here.)
Mike Padden, the attorney representing Franklin's family, claims the video shows an officer calling Franklin a "Damn freakin' [N-word]," among other slurs. When the video was first trumpeted by Padden a few weeks after Franklin's death, Minneapolis Police Department Chief Janeé Harteau characterized the allegation officers used the N-word as "not only preposterous but without merit" and demanded an apology.
Here's the lawsuit's account of the circumstances surrounding Franklin's death:
During the time of the MPD SWAT team's interaction with [Franklin]... an MPD SWAT member, believed to be Defendant Lucas Peterson, called Franklin "little nigger" in the moments before Peterson and another SWAT member killed Franklin. Franklin presented no threat to the SWAT team since he had been successfully apprehended, clearly had surrendered, had both of his hands in the air at the moment he was killed in a surrender position, and was unarmed, but was killed, nonetheless, in an execution-type fashion due to anger, excessive force, and militarization.
That account, of course, stands diametrically opposed to the MPD's version, which holds that Franklin was killed after he got his finger on the trigger of a police MP5 submachine gun during a struggle and managed to shoot two officers in the legs before being gunned down himself. Last September a grand jury cleared officers of any wrongdoing, and two of them who were in the basement with Franklin on that May afternoon actually received a Purple Heart award.
Since it's basically a he said-she said situation, Twin Cities lawyer and legal expert Ron Rosenbaum says he doesn't think Padden has much of a case.
"Police misconduct cases are notoriously difficult cases to win and they're particularly difficult to win when they so-called victim also happens to be a guy with a criminal record, or a 'bad guy,'" Rosenbaum tells us. "In police misconduct cases society tends to give the benefit of the doubt in the extreme to police officers, for the simple reason that police officers have the extremely difficult job of dealing with the kind of people the public does not want to deal with, which is criminals."
"The standard in civil cases is 'preponderance of evidence'... It's a lower standard than a criminal case, but here you've got a guy with a criminal record, a guy who in the defendants' version was tied to a gun both at the site and with his DNA to another one, who was a suspect in a crime and ran while being questioned," Rosenbaum continues. "You've always got a high hurdle, but to turn that into a situation where a so-called 'bad guy' turns into a victim... And then you've got the kind of situation where it's hard to prove what happened [in the basement]. You might have two sides to the story but the other side is dead. Franklin can't testify."
Rosenbaum says he's surprised by the tone of Padden's lawsuit, which claims, for instance, that the "overall goal" of the MPD's racist culture "was to convey a theme to African Americans in Minneapolis that the City of Minneapolis was not '[N-word] friendly.'
(For more, click to page two.)
"When you accuse the police of planting DNA and altering evidence, which is in and of itself a crime, you best be able to back that up with actual evidence rather than just a theory," Rosenbaum says. (The lawsuit itself doesn't appear to make any claim about police altering evidence, but last summer, Padden told the Star Tribune, "It's our contention the DNA was planted. [Franklin's] DNA being on the gun fits exactly into our theory of the case.")
And even if it's true that some cops directed racial slurs toward Franklin, "That doesn't mean the conclusion is correct that they executed him," Rosenbaum continues.
Put it all together and Rosenbaum doesn't like Padden's chances of getting any of the $1 million-plus he's seeking in damages -- "unless there's a lot being hidden here," he says.
We contacted MPD spokesperson John Elder for comment about the lawsuit. He responded with this statement:
From Chief Harteau:
"We have provided extensive documentation, evidence, and explanation of the officers' actions at our press conference on September 19, 2013 regarding the events of May 10, 2013. I continue to fully support the actions of my officers and agree with the decision of the Grand Jury."
We will be providing no additional information.
To read Padden's lawsuit for yourself, click to page three.
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