Complaints arise amid efforts to reform department
Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara has come under investigation following three complaints filed with the Office of Police Conduct Review, the office tasked with handing complaints against the police department under the Office of Civil Rights. This news comes months after the city came to a settlement agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and while negotiations are ongoing with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which has yet to finalize its consent decree.
The complaints were first obtained by another news outlet and are considered active investigations. None of the accusations against the chief have been substantiated. The first complaint was filed less than a month after O’Hara was sworn in as chief, amid reports that he was abusive and unprofessional toward a fellow officer in the Edina Police Department after demanding a report that wasn’t public.
The second complaint against O’Hara was filed in February regarding an incident on Jan. 27, in which the “chief of police used reportable force, but did not do a force report,” according to the complaint. Many critics of the department have found this incident troubling given the Minneapolis Police Department’s history and the DOJ’s findings regarding MPD’s reporting on the use of force.
The last complaint filed against Chief O’Hara comes from his comments surrounding the hiring of Officer Tyler Timberlake, who joined the department in January after being charged with misdemeanor assault during his time as a Fairfax County, Virginia police officer.
Chief O’Hara acknowledged that he was present for Timberlake’s final interview but denied that he was aware of the officer’s troubling history. “I did not know of the existence of video capturing a use of force incident involving this individual until after receiving a media inquiry,” O’Hara said in a statement. “Upon learning of the existence of video and seeing it myself, I immediately ordered an investigation into MPD’s hiring processes.”
Following the report of these complaints, the City of Minneapolis has hired an outside law firm to investigate the charges filed against the chief. The complaints have been referred to the Office of the Commissioner of Community Safety (OSC), as is standard when formal complaints are made against a sitting MPD chief.
According to OCS spokesman Stan Alleyne, an external investigator will be used in order to “preserve neutrality and investigator independence and avoid any potential conflicts of interest.”
Members of the Racial Justice Network released a statement shortly after news of these complaints was revealed. They urged Mayor Jacob Frey to take action against O’Hara and called into question the chief’s credibility in light of these complaints.
“Chief O’Hara’s alleged deceptive statements regarding his knowledge of former officer Tyler Timberlake’s use of force history at the time of Timberlake’s hiring by MPD, not only undermine public trust but demonstrate the lengths that he will go to maintain the status quo of racist policing practices,” the statement read.
Nekima Levy Armstrong, civil rights attorney and executive director of the Wayfinder Foundation, found the allegations against O’Hara to be troubling and disappointing.
“He knew the caliber of leadership that was required in order to take the helm of the Minneapolis Police Department, which has had its own troubles over the last several years and developed a terrible reputation in this community and around the nation for the significant breakdown in police and community relations, as well as the use of excessive force which has occurred at disproportionate rates against Black people and other people of color,” she said.
Levy Armstrong stated that she had concerns about O’Hara following the revelation that he partook in the hiring of Timberlake despite knowing his misdemeanor assault charge.
Both Levy Armstrong and Pete Gamades of the Racial Justice Network raised concerns about Mayor Frey’s treatment of Black public safety leaders, in light of the complaints against O’Hara.
“All of this derelict behavior is co-signed by Mayor Jacob Frey, who has used a decisive double standard in reprimanding former Chief Arradondo and former Community Safety Commissioner Dr. Cedric Alexander (both Black men) for less egregious acts, while allowing O’Hara (a White man) to continue in his duties despite multiple red flags of glaringly incompetent leadership,” Gamades said.
With news of the city hiring an outside law firm, Levy Armstrong called on the city to disclose the name of the firm that’s been hired to investigate the complaints against the chief. “I’m concerned about whether this is truly an independent investigation,” she said.
These complaints against O’Hara also come at a time when the chief and MPD leadership are engaged with the community in a series of conversations on police policies. These discussions cover non-discriminatory policing, use of force, and stops, searches, and arrests. These community sessions are part of the consent decree that the city signed acknowledging that collecting feedback from community members is an important part of implementing changes.
Levy Armstrong was previously chair of the Minneapolis Community Safety Work Group, where she recommended that the city bring in an outside professional law enforcement agency to implement new training mechanisms and look at their hiring practices. She stated that to her knowledge the city hasn’t made the effort to have that external oversight.
She believes that community engagement is a necessary component to addressing MPD’s challenges, but at the end of the day “the proof is in the pudding. You can have a million discussions with the community and still fail to address basic policy issues that have led to the deterioration of the Minneapolis Police Department,” she said.
“It’s also my understanding that there are not a substantial number of people of color attending the meetings. So they’re going to have to shift their strategy if they’re not getting a strong turnout from the Black community and other communities of color with regard to outreach. We are the community that is most affected, most deeply and disproportionately affected.”
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, attended the first community session on Aug. 15 and saw it as a waste of time. In the past, Gross and her organization held over two dozen community events to educate the community on the consent decree process and inform Minneapolis residents on how they can provide feedback on policies.
After attending the community session, she felt as though there wasn’t a sufficient amount of information being provided to the public.
She stated that the policies weren’t easily accessible to the community and that it would be difficult for the department to have a full conversation regarding draft policies for police conduct in these community sessions. She also criticized how the draft policies were written and communicated to the public.
“One [of the draft policies] I saw was so poorly written that I was objecting to a lot of it,” she said. “One of the things that they say for example is, ‘Police are allowed to use force as necessary to do their job’ or something like that. That’s not the actual standard. The Graham standard, which is the legal standard, is that police are only allowed to use the level of force necessary to effect a lawful purpose. It has to be the exact language that you have in your policy.”
MPD is scheduled to host its last community engagement session on Wednesday, Sept. 6. There is no information on whether or not Chief O’Hara will be in attendance.