Imran Ali is channeling his extensive experience as a high-profile prosecutor into helping recruit expert faculty and develop curriculum for a “criminal justice professional training platform” in his new private practice role.
Ali, now director of law enforcement education and training and a shareholder at the Eckberg Lammers law firm in Stillwater, is focusing on the evolution of such programming for law enforcement and of continuing legal education courses for attorneys.
“People talk about police reform as a bad thing,” Ali said in a recent interview. “I think police reform is a fantastic thing, and I think that everybody in law enforcement, really, if it’s approached in the right way, is supportive of that. … We all need reform because the goal is to get better. Our goal is to be the best that we can be.”
Ali made national headlines in May when he resigned from the Washington County Attorney’s Office. Ali, Minnesota Lawyer Attorney of the Year in 2020 and 2016 , served in the office for a decade, most recently as assistant criminal division chief.
‘Perfect storm’ preceded resignation
In his first extensive public comments since his departure, Ali recently cited the “perfect storm” of stressful circumstances he and Washington County Attorney Pete Orput faced after charging former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during an April 11 traffic stop after apparently mistaking her gun for a Taser.
By June, however, Ali was fielding calls about new opportunities, including from Eckberg Lammers. Ali knew of the firm because its offices are near his former workplace. It also has municipal prosecution contracts with 18 cities in five Minnesota counties, including Woodbury.
The firm’s plans to expand its Law Enforcement Training Academy and Consulting program appealed greatly to Ali, whose experience includes training new judges in the state of Minnesota at the University of Minnesota Law School, law students at Mitchell Hamline School of Law and law enforcement and prosecutors nationwide, according to the firm.
Ali is developing curriculum based on his experience and is reaching out to his network, including law enforcement officials, former prosecutors and private sector and business attorneys for input and seeking approvals from the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
‘Right message, right messenger’
“I’ve had probably by now in the last two months maybe over 75 meetings with different subject matter experts in different areas,” Ali said. “Our ultimate goal is to create this group of faculty that can provide this unprecedented curriculum that is needed right now, with the right message and the right messenger, and I’m excited about that.”
For attorneys, the plan is to offer continuing legal education courses that are “more encompassing” to the profession rather than specific to particular disciplines, Ali said. He is passionate about eliminating implicit bias, so a course and an experience on that is a possibility.
Ali said he also has spoken to larger corporations interested in courses addressing workplace violence and threat management and been in talks with banks and credit unions interested in preventing fraud.
This fall and winter the program should be busy with several education opportunities Ali said, while more of the curriculum will launch in 2022.
Working with Ali on the firm’s law enforcement education and training program is Pam Whitmore, who joined Eckberg Lammers in May. Whitmore began her career doing litigation, municipal work and defense of police officers in civil cases before moving to the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, where she developed conflict management and other programs.
“I joined Eckberg Lammers with the intent of taking this type of work and growing it beyond just member cities but offering it to counties and townships, school districts and private entities as well, because there’s such a need,” Whitmore said. “I have a real passion for doing my little bit to try to help some of the divides that we’ve been seeing over the last many years in lots but places but particularly in government.”
Addressing gaps in law enforcement training
As they compared their experience and shared contacts, Whitmore said, she and Ali identified what they could offer to improve law enforcement services and address gaps in law enforcement training and education.
“There’s a need there for use-of-force training and that’s one of [Ali’s] strengths,” Whitmore said. “Conflict management, mediation, recognizing and valuing cultural differences, that absolutely falls in my wheelhouse of what I’ve done.”
Tom Weidner, managing shareholder of Eckberg Lammers, said the training academy aligns with the firm’s mission of helping to strengthen communities. Weidner said he has done municipal prosecution and worked with police departments for decades. There’s a perception that law enforcement is in crisis, he said, and Ali wants to be part of the solution.
“The faculty that Imran is putting together will provide a real comprehensive training that I don’t think is out there right now,” Weidner said. “It’s something that we believe makes a healthier, more well-rounded officer, which leads to enhanced public safety.”
At the Washington County Attorney’s Office, Ali tried complex homicide, rape, domestic violence, narcotics-related and burglary cases and helped lead the East Metro Human Traffic Task Force. In recent years, he prosecuted national and international sex trafficking rings, trained and presented to thousands of officers and prosecutors and helped draft legislation and testified in favor of stronger penalties for sex trafficking offenders, according to his new firm.
Ali said he worked in the public sector “because that truly is where my heart is,” coming from a family of government employees who worked for and served the country. He began his career as a public defender in Hennepin County then became one of the few to go into prosecution when he joined the Washington County Attorney’s Office.
‘Minister of justice’
“As a prosecutor, you are a minister of justice,” Ali said. “You are to look at the facts, you are to apply the applicable law and if there is a violation of the law, you would charge a case. You would do so independently. The goal is to do so without any sort of outside influence. … That’s why, when you look at Lady Justice, she’s blind. The reason she’s blind is that’s the way we are to look at the law.”
The ability to do that has changed in recent years, however, as “outside influences” such as civil attorneys and activists seek to affect charging and sentencing decisions, Ali said. While their focus now is on “critical incidents involving police,” Ali said he believes such pressure will come to bear on other issues in the future.
After signing the manslaughter complaint against Potter, Ali said, he “got it from both sides,” in voicemails and emails from those who opposed any charge against the ex-officer and those demanding murder charges. Troubling also were protests outside Orput’s house that Ali said brought hundreds of people, some blaring loud music and flashing strobe lights in the middle of the night, into the neighborhood.
Ali “resigned in protest” from the county attorney’s office when he felt that those external forces were attempting to call his integrity into question.
“I walked away from everything that I knew,” Ali said. “I walked away from criminal law that I was passionate about. I walked away from an office that I loved. I walked away from a county attorney that I respect a great deal. I walked away from a management position making really good money and having a retirement to look forward to. I walked away from it all.”