To Serve and Disrespect

Neva Walker, one of the state's only elected African American officials, isn't commenting yet

Shortly before 11:00 p.m. on November 17, Shae Walker was picked up by Minneapolis police officers outside his grandmother's home at 37th Street and Third Avenue South in Minneapolis. Walker, it turns out, is the 18-year-old son of Rep. Neva Walker (DFL-Minneapolis), one of the state's few elected African American officials. He was brought to the basement of the MPD's Third Precinct on Minnehaha Avenue, according to some officers' own accounts, and handcuffed to a stairwell railing for the better part of five hours while a search warrant was obtained for his grandmother's house. He was also questioned about his potential role in a robbery in the neighborhood earlier that night, despite the absence of any evidence linking him to the incident. At 4:30 a.m. the next day, the teenager was dropped off outside the home by the police.

No charges have been filed against Shae Walker, nor was anybody else charged with a crime as a result of the search of the Walker home. Sources inside and outside the police department confirm that an internal affairs complaint has been filed by Deputy Chief Sharon Lubinski over the matter.

Because no one was charged in the case, the police reports from that night are not a matter of public record. But in his November 17 application for a search warrant, MPD officer Daniel Willis says he became interested in 3740 Third Avenue South after arresting someone for possession of a sawed-off shotgun allegedly used in a robbery at 3744 Oakland Avenue South earlier that evening. That person, referred to in the warrant application as a "cooperating defendant," indicated that he received the shotgun from a person listed in the warrant as "Bryson," adding that he believes Bryson conceals other weapons that have been used for robberies in the neighborhood. (The actual warrant, signed by Hennepin County District Court Judge Patricia L. Belois, authorizes a search of 3640 Third Avenue South, a different address.)

According to the warrant, a series of phone calls from the cooperating defendant to Bryson established that he was at 3740 Third Avenue South, and the MPD set up surveillance. When Shae Walker and his cousin, Brysan Ali Rogers, emerged from the residence, they were detained by police and driven away in squad cars. Rogers was taken to the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center and, despite the allegations of the cooperating defendant, eventually released without being charged with any crime. The receipt and inventory of items seized by the police at the Walker residence that night include no weapons--just two leather coats, three spent shotgun shells found in a shoebox, and a postal scale.

For now, Rep. Walker is withholding comment on the search of her mother's home and the detainment of her teenage son. According to Joel Johnson, spokesperson for the DFL House caucus at the Capitol, "Neva understands this is a controversial time. She wants to be absolutely sure she knows what happened and what she wants to do about it before she talks to the media."

The incident occurs at a time of escalating tensions between the MPD and predominantly black neighborhoods on both the north and south sides of the city. Heated rhetoric and suspicion have marked recent monthly meetings of the Police Community Relations Council, the outgrowth of a signed federal mediation agreement between the city, the MPD, and community reps that purports, among other things, to improve relations between cops and minorities. Last Wednesday, the PCRC passed a vote of "no confidence" in the hiring process the MPD is using to diversify its ranks.

"Of course it is troubling for us when we hear communities of color talk about being treated disrespectfully," says Lt. Medaria Arradondo, who has long been a point person for the police department on PCRC matters and other avenues of police-community relations. "It is very troubling when you have a state representative who has clearly stated that she wants to build better relations between the police and the community, and who is now echoing and acknowledging the same personal concerns that her constituents have brought to her in the past."

Along with Neva Walker's high profile, Lt. Arradondo says that 74-year-old Clarissa Walker, the lawmaker's mother, "is widely considered by myself and others as being a strong and influential person within the African American community. She is a leader in her neighborhood and a cornerstone of the Sabathani Community Center." Consequently, more than 60 community residents turned out at Sabathani on November 21 to question the police behavior toward the Walker family the previous week. It was at that time, according to people in attendance, that Sgt. Donald Smulski said that Shae Walker was handcuffed for a period of hours without being charged.

PCRC member Ron Edwards also alleges that the Walker family wasn't informed about Shae Walker's whereabouts until after 1:00 a.m. on November 18, and that after that attempts to contact him were rebuffed or delayed by MPD personnel. Lt. Arradondo says he cannot comment on those allegations, which, if an internal complaint was in fact filed on the matter, are currently under investigation.

"But I can say this," Arradondo offers. "It may seem like a minor point to some that we treat everyone with respect. But it is a paramount issue if we are ever going to move forward and achieve the goals we have set for ourselves in getting to a point of trust in the relationship between the police and the community."

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