Investigative unit helps victims’ families find answers
“We dig deeper” is the motto of Communities United Against Police Brutality’s (CUAPB) Police Reinvestigation Workgroup. The workgroup was integral in the $11.5 million lawsuit in the case of Cordale Handy, settled earlier this month, as well as the $1.3 million settlement awarded to the family of Marcus Golden earlier this year.
While others at CUAPB have previously reinvestigated police killings, the current workgroup—Nicole Kesselring and her goddaughters Maddie Pederson and Emma Pederson—formed in 2018, does a deep dive into all the evidence that is available and looks for things that may have been missed or overlooked in the initial investigation.
“We try to prove the police narrative of events,” said Emma Pederson. “We start off and look through the county attorney’s charging decision. We look through what they say in that report. Then we basically say, ‘Can we prove what they say happened?’
“We go off that, based on the [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] report. We look at all the audio. We look at all the video that captured the event.”
“We try to look at what they say,” Emma continued, “compare it to everything in the reports. Compare it to the physical evidence. Compare it to news articles that provide more information. And we really try to understand the actual narrative of what happened versus the first police narrative that often comes out.”
Both Emma and Maddie Pederson have policing experience—the two trained in the Minneapolis Police Department’s Police Explorers program. Maddie worked as a Community Service Officer (CSO) in Minneapolis through 2017, and in Bloomington until 2021. A CSO is a junior officer who is paid to work in the department while going for an associate degree in law enforcement.
Maddie Pederson, who is a domestic abuse survivor, discovered the Police Explorers program through a job fair in 2011, and thought it would be a good way to make sure children never endured what she did. Emma Pederson followed her into the program shortly thereafter.
“I mainly joined that program because I was really looking for a father figure because I didn’t have one at that time. I really was looking for some sort of structure,” Maddie said. “I thought what better than to be a police officer, because they seem to be heroes.”
In 2017, the sisters left MPD due to what they describe as “a lot of boundary issues and inappropriate sexual behavior from adult officers.” Maddie said a female officer texted her when she was in the Explorers program telling her about a boob job the officer had and offering to send photos.
Both Emma and Maddie allege that male officers would get the sisters to scope out pretty women for them at policing conferences. The two sisters told their godmother, Kesselring, about the issues with the program after they said they had to find and bring back to the hotel one of their advisors who was drunk at a policing conference.
“When I found out the facts and the truth about the way these officers were behaving with a youth program, I was shocked,” Kesselring said. She pushed for Maddie Pederson to file a complaint, but the family was told they could not file the complaint themselves and would have to give details to their sergeant. The sisters never saw what information was put in the complaint the sergeant submitted.
While Emma ended her law enforcement work after leaving MPD, Maddie did not lose her faith in policing and moved to Bloomington Police Department (BPD) as a CSO in 2018.
“I still wanted to be a police officer after Minneapolis. I thought it was just a Minneapolis thing,” Maddie said. “But then I went to Bloomington, and I realized it’s not just Minneapolis. It was a police culture thing.”
Maddie worked as both a CSO officer at BPD and on the reinvestigation workgroup from 2018-2021. “I was always honest with both sides about working with the community and with the police department,” she said.
“I received a lot of support from the community. They were very caring and supportive about my story and my journey in the law enforcement profession. The police department was the opposite. I was seen as the ‘goddess of those people’ and they were worried about ‘[Black Lives Matter] infiltrating the police department.”
Maddie Pederson said fellow BPD officers became distant and aloof towards her after a video surfaced of her speaking about racism and excessive use of force by MPD at a Minneapolis City Council meeting in 2018. She left BPD in 2021, after she was accused of recording conversations in the police department, which she denies.
“Basically, my choice was to leave or be fired,” Maddie said.
Kesselring and her goddaughters have been the mainstays of the investigation workgroup since 2018, with Kesselring’s husband, Paul Bosman, working as CUAPB’s lawyer. Occasionally, help has also come from CUAPB members and family members of those slain by police.
Kesselring says the group has re-examined more than 20 cases, with four more cases currently in progress. She is unaware of any similar groups nationally, but said she is willing to help teach anyone who wants to start a reinvestigation group.
“As much as I don’t want to see it grow any more, because I don’t want to see this happen, I would like to see other states, other people, pick up and be able to do the same thing and help families find justice,” Kesselring said.