A pattern in practice

By Ron Edwards

The tasered death of David Cornelius

When David Cornelius Smith arrived at the sixth-floor gym of the downtown Minneapolis YMCA, at 30 South 9th Street, on the early afternoon of September 9, 2010, he had no idea he was facing his final hours of life. Within a short period of time, according to the police version, David Smith had become disruptive and threatening and combative.

The police version provided to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but not to his family, was that he fought with police and injured one before he was tasered and handcuffed. The police report says the police “allegedly realized he was having a medical emergency, and he was rushed to Hennepin County Medical Center.”

The family was later told by medical staff that this 28-year-old had suffered a massive cardiac arrest from the incident. Then, according to a story in Sunday’s Sept 19, 2010 Star Tribune, he was on life support until Friday, September 17. But now let us look at some peculiar aspects.

Number one: Early in the afternoon of Sept 9, the Minneapolis Star Tribune had interviewed Chief Tim Dolan about the death by tasering of a young African American inside the YMCA. He had died.

It was only after a call from a source that the Star Tribune checked further and found out that the story was later changed to the “fact” that David Cornelius Smith, some two or three hours after his death on the sixth floor
of the YMCA, had somehow been miraculously revived.

Of course he never regained consciousness and of course members of his family, who came to Minneapolis 10 days ago, have not been approached by Minneapolis police to discuss the circumstances of his death.

Another “of course” is that I’m sure that neither the family, the American Civil Liberties Union nor the NAACP were told that the Star Tribune and Chief Tim Dolan had already discussed Mr. Smith’s death on the early afternoon of the 9th of September.

However, the Minneapolis Police Department knows how to sanitize a crime scene, witnesses and evidence. It withholds evidence. It gives misleading statements.

It intimidates witnesses, such as those who saw that Mr. Smith was tasered after he was handcuffed, not before as in the “official” report.

It tampers with security camera footage.

We saw all of this earlier in the tasering death of another African American in December 2008 (see columns of Dec. 17 and 24, 2008, and Feb. 4 and Dec. 16, 2009). It would appear to be a disturbing yet official pattern and set of practices.

The pattern is to change the information. The practice is to lie as much as they can.

What a surprise it must have been to the reporter of the Star Tribune to have interviewed Chief Dolan about the death of Mr. Smith only to learn later from non-police sources that David Cornelius Smith was said to have been miraculously revived some two-to-three hours later, after his death on the sixth floor of the Minneapolis YMCA at the hand of two Minneapolis police officers who tasered him after he was handcuffed and face down on the floor.

I am obviously challenging the police department’s statement that Mr. Smith was tasered before he was handcuffed. According to witnesses, any videos of the confrontation would show that Mr. Smith was beaten and tasered after he was handcuffed, which suggests the serious question of police patterns and practices. I again remind you of the death of Quincy Smith (no relation) in December 2008, a case that took over one year to get presented to a grand jury.

This column predicts, even though the coroner will rule that David Cornelius Smith died as a result of an act of homicide, that unless someone gets the police and the city to change their pattern and practice, this case will never get to a state grand jury.

Again, my friends, “pattern and practice,” a legal term that is part of Title VII, that sets evidentiary requirements held up by the Supreme Court for demonstrating “pattern and practice” in the violation of civil rights laws.

I raise “pattern and practice” not on ideological or political grounds, but on justice and fairness grounds and on homeland security for citizens grounds.

David Smith and his family deserve better. They deserve the truth. The community deserves justice. His death should be reviewed by a federal grand jury. Even though I doubt this will happen, fostered by the city’s patterns and practices, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen.
Stay tuned.

Ron hosts “Black Focus” on Channel 17, MTN-TV, Sundays, 5-6 pm and co-hosts Blog Talk Radio’s “ON POINT!” Saturdays at 5 pm, providing coverage about Black Minnesota. Order his books at www.BeaconOnTheHill.com. Hear his readings and read his solution papers and “web log” at www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.