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Ruling paved way for $100K skyway-Taser settlement

Barbara L. Jones//March 10, 2016

Ruling paved way for $100K skyway-Taser settlement

Barbara L. Jones//March 10, 2016

January 31, 2014, was cold. The high was 6 below zero and the low was 36 below, and it had snowed for six hours the day before.

Christopher Lollie, a musician, rapper and custodian at Cossetta’s restaurant, walked downtown from the restaurant on West Seventh Street in St. Paul to meet his children at their day care. He sat down in a chair in the skyway near the day care in the First National Bank Building to wait for them.

The events that ensued cost the city of St. Paul $100,000 in damages. The civil rights case against the city illustrated the power of a cell phone video, the willingness of these police to use Tasers, the apparent edginess of the police in this situation when Lollie refused to produce any identification, and what news reports called “sitting while black.” An internal investigation cleared the officers of any misconduct.

It made the national news, courtesy of You Tube and a video that Lollie shot, with the Atlantic magazine commenting, “If you’re 27 and black with dreadlocks, sometimes you’re waiting to pick up your kids and someone calls the cops to get rid of you.”

Lollie’s attorney, Paul Applebaum of St. Paul, said, “The biggest misconception in this case was that the police have the authority to order persons to identify themselves when there is no articulable suspicion that the person has committed a crime.”

One minute to arrest

The events of the morning were disputed sharply and were a prelude to a summary judgment order issued by U.S. District Court Susan Richard Nelson.

According to the complaint, Lollie was sitting in the First National Bank Building skyway area when a security guard asked him to leave. Lollie did not leave for about 10 minutes and the guard called the police and reported an uncooperative male in the lounge area. The guard did not report any criminal activity to the police, who nonetheless responded on foot through the skyway.

As Lollie got up from the lounge area, Officer Lori Hayne entered the building through the skyway.

Hayne began to question Lollie, who declined to answer and stated that he had done nothing wrong, and that he was on his way to pick up his children.

Nelson picks up the events at this point: During the discussions between Hayne and Lollie, he decided to film the encounter on his phone. Nelson said there was no other evidence or allegation that Lollie physically or verbally threatened Hayne, yelled, acted disorderly, or attempted to flee while walking to the day care and talking to Hayne and seized his cell phone in the course of arresting him. Two more officers came on the scene.

At this point, Applebaum said, “He knows he’s going to get a beat down.”

The judge wrote, “Within eight seconds of arriving Officer Johnson announced multiple times that Lollie was going to jail.” She continues, “What is not captured well in a written account of this incident is how quickly it progressed. In just over one minute, Lollie is stopped, told he is going to jail, restrained against a wall, allegedly choked, tased [twice], and taken to the floor by the officers. Besides the disputed facts … there is no allegation Lollie physically or verbally threatened the officers, resisted, or attempted to flee. Finally, besides [discussions with the security guard], there is no evidence that the officers conducted any investigation into any of the crimes Lollie was suspected of at the time (trespass at the FNBB and obstruction of legal process) before Lollie was arrested.”

According to the complaint, these actions occurred in a crowded skyway and were witnessed by children from Lollie’s children’s day care, although not his children.

All charges against him ultimately were dismissed.

City denied summary judgment

Nelson granted the officers qualified immunity for the Terry stop in the skyway, finding that they had reasonable suspicion for the stop based on the report of trespass at the FNBB.

However, she denied summary judgment to the city on all other claims, finding that genuine issues of material fact existed on the claims of unlawful arrest, false arrest and battery. She wrote, “Whether Lollie’s alleged challenge to the officers’ ‘command authority’ and resistance justified the force used against him is for the jury to decide. … On these facts, the Court cannot conclude that the rapid progression in the officers’ use of force, or the force they used, was objectively reasonable as a matter of law.”

Nelson also pointed out that the police ignored exculpatory evidence, did not further investigate the alleged trespass before arresting Lollie, and were not entitled to immunity even if Lollie disobeyed commands. She also found the dispute over whether the area where Lollie was sitting was public or private immaterial because the police reasonably believed the bank when it said it was private.

City attorney Samuel Clark could not be reached for comment.


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