Verdict, settlement undermine confidence in public safety
In the wake of former police officer Mohamed Noor’s murder conviction, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) with its ongoing history of police-involved deaths is facing renewed scrutiny on how it handles misconduct. From rejected settlements to new faces of police outrage, questions about fairness and inequality are keeping the MPD (and City government) in the public spotlight.
After last month’s verdict, the City of Minneapolis settled a civil lawsuit filed by Justine Damond Ruszczyk’s family for $20 million — the highest settlement to date involving suits stemming from police misconduct. Earlier that month, the city council rejected a settlement offer for the 2015 shooting death of Jamar Clark.
Clark was killed by Minneapolis police officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg in November of 2015. Hennepin County Prosecutor Michael Freeman found the shooting justified and declined to prosecute the officers.
Following the meeting, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis issued an order for the Minneapolis mayor, police chief and president of the city council to appear before him to give an update on negotiations. During the district court hearing, City leaders agreed to mediation to solve the dispute.
The Clark family’s attorney, Bill Starr, pointed out in an Associated Press interview that the Ruszczyk family “got a transformative amount…and puts us in a position where we should also get a transformative amount.”
On the same day that parties agreed to mediation on the Clark settlement, City Council Member Linea Palmisano hosted a listening session with Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo at Lake Harriet Spiritual Center in Ruszczyk’s Southwest neighborhood.
At the May 7 meeting, her former neighbors challenged the leadership on police procedure and safety. “As a woman in my neighborhood, I don’t feel comfortable calling the police,” said Sarah Kuhnen, a member of the neighborhood coalition Justice for Justine.
“It makes me shake thinking about that because my son was out minutes before Justine was killed,” said Mindy Barry, another member of Justice for Justine. “He had just gotten new shoes, and we allowed him to run around the block, and the thought of Officer Harrity [Noor’s partner] thinking of my son as a threat and possibly shooting him makes me sick to my stomach.”
Barry asked if the cases of other police-involved shootings would be reopened in light of Freeman’s criticism of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). Freeman, who is on paid medical leave since this past Friday, had publicly accused the agency of making several errors and stopped just short of calling the BCA incompetent in its investigation of the Ruszczyk shooting.
“I feel as though the Minneapolis Police Department was convicted along with Noor,” said Barry. “I’ve lost faith in the system that I think covered up a lot of what happened in Justine’s case.”
The activation of police cameras was a major concern for many in the room. Arradondo responded that his officers’ level of compliance with the directive to turn them on had increased to 94 percent in the past year.
An attendee suggested that the department get rid of its “blue wall of silence.” Arradondo insisted that it does not exist in his department. That implies, he said, that “every single officer in the department is involved in covering up something.”
He admitted that officers have lied, but said, “I do not believe that every single man and woman who wears this uniform comes to work lying.”
A young woman responded that she was a former Minneapolis police cadet who faced the blue wall of silence personally after being harassed.
When challenged regarding different standards for Black and Brown people versus Whites, Frey said, “Every one of our police officers in the MPD and every single person in this room, including myself, has implicit bias.”
Sanctity of life
At the listening session, both the mayor and the chief reiterated their commitment to the “sanctity of life” standard the MPD set a few years ago. An attendee pointed out that the sanctity of life should include not putting civilians in danger unnecessarily, pointing out that less than a week earlier a man in North Minneapolis lost his life as the result of a police chase.
The referenced chase took place on May 1, involving 50-year-old Jose Angel Madrid Salcido. Police had been called to check out a possible drug deal in the 3300 block of Aldrich Avenue North, leading to the incident.
According to the police, when they attempted to investigate a “suspicous” vehicle, the driver, Trevon McMorris, sped off. McMorris crashed into Salcido, who was pronounced dead on the scene.
“There were suspected narcotics and other instrumentalities of a crime found in the [suspect’s] vehicle,” said police spokesman John Elder. But he contended, “They [police] were never close enough for it to be considered a pursuit,” adding that officers did activate their lights and siren. “The squad video is going to confirm what I’m saying.”
Audio from the squad, however, contradicts Elder’s assertion. When the pursuing officer was asked if they were in a chase, the officer answered “affirmative.”
Attendees suggested a similar listening session be held in North Minneapolis. A growing sense of common cause between White and Black citizens with respect to police misconduct is adding to the pressure for change in the MPD, as is frustration over disproportionate civil settlements, accumulating evidence of investigative incompetence, and ongoing police threats to civilian safety.
Mel Reeves has a blog fighthepowerjournal.com and welcomes reader responses at firstname.lastname@example.org.