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Lawsuit alleges that Minneapolis withholds police misconduct data

A group that advocates for government transparency sued the city of Minneapolis on Thursday, alleging it uses a loophole to circumvent public data laws and keep hundreds of police misconduct records from public view.

Under state law, complaints against police are classified as public if the officer is disciplined. But the lawsuit alleges that Minneapolis has said a form of one-on-one mentoring known as coaching doesn’t rise to the level of discipline, so those records aren’t released.

The lawsuit brought by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information alleges the practice has promoted a culture of secrecy and allowed the department to operate without accountability, the Star Tribune reported. The lawsuit names the city, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other city officials as defendants, and asks a judge to force the city to release the records.

“The City Defendants should not be permitted to avoid their obligations under the (Minnesota Government Data Practices Act) through linguistic gymnastics — they should be required to disclose public data that goes to the very heart of whether MPD officers can be trusted to serve and protect the people of Minneapolis,” the complaint says.

The city attorney’s office had no comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

In 2015, a Department of Justice report found that Minneapolis police resolved 418 complaints over a six-year period through coaching. The report said reliance on coaching was a systemic challenge to intervening early in bad behavior. In addition, members of the Minneapolis Police Conduct Oversight Commission — a group of city-appointed civil rights watchdogs — said last summer that the city had been misinterpreting state law by classifying these records as private. City officials dispute that.

Over the past nine years, 226 complaints resulted in coaching, according to city data.

Coaching cases described in public records include an incident in which a Minneapolis officer caused a “preventable” car crash through reckless driving, and another in which an officer used “inappropriate language” toward a victim of domestic assault then didn’t write a report.

In another case, a person alleged a police sergeant failed to turn on a body camera, put a gun to the head of a vulnerable adult, then threw that person to the ground, holding him down with a knee to the back. It’s unclear what part of the allegation was substantiated, because records are private.

The lawsuit says that in the case of Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder last month in the death of George Floyd, all but one of Chauvin’s 22 prior complaints were nonpublic, which likely means some ended in coaching. Court filings in the former officer’s murder trial showed multiple allegations of excessive force.

The city says former officer Tou Thao — who is charged with aiding and abetting in Floyd’s death — has no discipline on his record. But court filings show that in Thao’s first year on the force, he was written up eight times for “conduct involving dishonesty and/or taking shortcuts to avoid work,” according to the lawsuit.

“One mechanism by which to prevent police murders is identifying problem officers before their misconduct can escalate. Yet the City Defendants have proven that not only will they remain willfully blind to the misconduct of problem officers, but that they will bury these officers’ disciplinary data away from the public by calling it ‘coaching,” the lawsuit states. “This data belongs to the public.”

 

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