Who is Lt. Rick Thomas?

Suspended MPD cop well-known at Little Earth

When two Minneapolis cops were suspended Monday over an arrest at Little Earth, one of the names was familiar to MPD observers and Little Earth residents alike. Lt. Rick Thomas, who has been on the force since 1981, is an officer in the city's Third Precinct, and for the last couple years has been hired off-duty at the housing complex in south Minneapolis.

In fact, Thomas was involved in one high-profile incident previously at Little Earth.

A CP cover story detailing million-dollar payouts the city has made in response to police brutality allegations noted the incident. (See "The Hit Parade Revisited," 7/20/2005.) Lt. Richard K. Thomas was one of several officers named in a federal lawsuit over a drug search at Little Earth in September 2002.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court, MPD officers busted down the doors of an apartment there and proceeded to kick several residents, while throwing them to the floor and handcuffing them. One, a woman who was eight months pregnant, was pulled out of the shower and was forced, naked, stomach-down onto the floor, according to the complaint. The suit was settled for $60,000.

According to his personnel file, Thomas was never disciplined for the incident. Thomas was suspended once in 2000, related to guidelines regarding "professional code of conduct" and "computer use." And a year ago, he was suspended for a "code of ethics violation."

Thomas's named surfaced again earlier this year when the MPD awarded a Medal of Valor to Sgt. Danny May for a 1990 incident in which he shot and killed a fleeing 17-year-old. (See "The Gang That Shot Itself in the Foot," CP 1/25/2006.) The award, which revisited so many bad memories that May eventually refused it, came from an MPD committee of 13 members. The coordinator of that committee was Lt. Rick Thomas.

Even so, Thomas has drawn praise for his work around Little Earth. "I am writing to commend the outstanding community policing relationship that Lt. Rick Thomas has established with the Little Earth community," wrote former Little Earth director Ellie Webster in a September 2003 letter that is in Thomas's personnel file.

And while many were calling for Thomas's termination this week, others at Little Earth defended him. "He's done a lot for the community," says Martha Fast Horse, who lived at Little Earth for five years and worked as a police dispatcher there for two. "We've had officers removed from here because they were cleaning things up a little too much. Lt. Thomas wasn't one of them"