Much at stake in police investigation of Franklin death



In OurView squareIn view of stories and commentary published in this newspaper and in other media the past two months concerning the May 10 death of Terrance Franklin at the hands of Minneapolis police, the MSR urges the responsible authorities to immediately reassure the public in general and the African American community in particular that justice will be done in determining exactly what occurred in this deadly exchange and, should any police misconduct be discovered, it will be suitably punished.

The circumstances are ugly: A young, unarmed Black man suspected of burglary is trapped in a basement by five armored and armed-to-the-teeth SWAT officers as well as an unleashed police dog and, from all appearances, ends up executed gangland-style, with two of the officers somehow wounded in an exchange that remains a puzzle. Police accounts are contradictory. Equivocations by the police chief, silence from the mayor and city council, withholding of evidence from the family by the county attorney — all of this fans the flames of discontent within communities long subjected to police abuse and growing more and more impatient with official cover-ups.

Add to this toxic mix a cop known for his abusive tactics and racial epithets against Blacks (as well as many others) who former chief Tim Dolan called “a great performer” and who has been awarded several awards and medals in spite of his history of abuse, and a potentially explosive discontent threatens to overwhelm the rational prosecution of justice in the case of MPD v. Terrance T. Franklin. To quell the growing alarm, we urge the following steps be taken immediately.

MPD Chief Janeé Harteau should without further delay reassure the community — and repeat it daily if necessary — that every possible measure is underway to determine the true circumstances of Franklin’s death, and that if there is any reasonable doubt as to the legal and moral conduct of the officers involved, every means will be employed to bring those responsible to justice. We expect Mayor Rybak and the city council to publicly endorse this expectation of the chief, who is directly responsible to them.

Harteau should further demonstrate that this investigation will be as transparent to the public as the law allows, a promise she made upon becoming chief. This transparency must include a credible account of how an unarmed suspect hiding in a basement can be set upon by a ferocious dog and five police officers, wind up shot multiple times in the back and in the back of the head by an officer with an extensive history of racial epithets and excessive force against Blacks — and no wrongdoing on the part of any of the officers involved. This demands far more explanation than has been offered to date.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman should make it clear that he can be as tough and fearless in the prosecution of police misconduct as he has shown himself to be in protecting the rights of women, going after drug dealers and gangs, and getting guns off the street. He occupies an office known in the community for its failure to find police wrongdoing in several deaths of Black men at police hands and numerous cases of excessive force and injury for which the City has paid out millions.

In none of these cases, many with blatant racial overtones, has the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office seen fit to charge an officer with so much as Misconduct of Public Officer under Minnesota Statute 609.43, and certainly never with assault or manslaughter. Is that because, in spite of all the horror stories we’ve heard if not witnessed, no Minneapolis cop has ever been guilty of such misconduct? Not likely.

There is much more at stake here than a plausible explanation for a young man’s bizarre death that also somehow injured two police officers. At risk is trust in a new police chief who has promised us a better day for police-community relations. At risk is confidence in a county attorney who has shown himself a fearless foe of everything criminal except criminal police behavior.

And finally, at stake is a last shred of hope that a historically biased system of justice for some might someday, thanks to the efforts of many good people, show itself capable of dispensing justice fairly to all — including young Black men like Terrance Franklin. Like the rest of the community, we will be watching to see if those in charge do the right thing this time, not just the expedient thing as in the past.

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