Minneapolis police officer collected $175K in workers’ comp after he was accused of lying about excessive force

Minneapolis police officer collected $175K in workers’ comp after he was accused of lying about excessive force

(First aired March 2023)

The officer finally cornered the looter running away from the Foot Locker in downtown Minneapolis with a bright orange box of Nikes.

Police were responding to another round of riots in August 2020 when officer Alexander Brown said the suspect tried to “shoulder bash me over.”

Brown was knocked to the ground and became disoriented, according to a police report. He said he punched the suspect once, applied a neck restraint and made the arrest.

Prosecutors later charged the 26-year-old man with felony burglary and assaulting a police officer.

But the case started to fall apart after surveillance video showed Brown swung his baton at the back of the man’s head, punched him at least six times and applied a chokehold that had been banned by the department earlier that summer.

In the police report, Brown made no mention of the baton or the repeated blows to the head.

“I don’t have any doubt that he lied,” said Jordan Kushner, the defense attorney who obtained the video months later. “His version is too far from reality.”

Court records show prosecutors quickly dropped the case in 2021 “in the interests of justice.”

In addition to undermining the criminal case, the violent arrest could have also led to Brown’s firing since he had a history of using excessive force.

Instead, Brown walked away from his career in law enforcement with $175,000 after the city agreed to settle his workers’ compensation claim.

He is part of a flood of claims filed by MPD officers after a new law made it harder to challenge first responders — especially those diagnosed with mental health disorders.

Lawmakers are considering changing the law because it forces cities to pay out large settlements or risk having to keep officers on the payroll until retirement even though they are no longer working.

But critics say the law may have also created a system that allows officers to avoid accountability by filing a workers’ compensation claim instead of facing possible discipline.

“It brings back the question ‘are some of these claims real or not?’” said Jason Chavez, Minneapolis City Council Member.

“Bankrupting our city”

Chavez, who took office at the beginning of 2022, is a vocal critic of the surge in settlements paid to officers since the murder of George Floyd.

“The fact of the matter is it’s bankrupting our city,” he said.

5 INVESTIGATES found at least 161 MPD officers have filed for workers’ compensation since the summer of 2020.

As previously reported, the city is paying out millions of dollars every year to settle those claims — the majority of which involve post traumatic stress disorder.

Only Brown can say why he filed for workers’ compensation.

5 INVESTIGATES called Brown earlier this month to ask whether his claim was related to the arrest of the looter in 2020. He said not to call again and hung up the phone.

Chavez, who was not on the city council when Brown’s settlement was approved, said he tries to learn as much as possible about an officer before voting on a settlement.

He winced when 5 INVESTIGATES showed him the video of Brown swinging his baton, repeatedly punching the suspect and applying the banned chokehold.

“I’m horrified,” Chavez said. 

Internal affairs

Brown was the subject of an internal affairs investigation in 2020.

It was closed with no discipline so the city cannot say whether the investigation was related to what happened in the video.

Sherral Schmidt, President of the Minneapolis Police Federation, said she is not aware of Brown’s case.

“I don’t know the specifics of his workers compensation settlement, nor do I see how it correlates to the case you are speaking of,” Schmidt said in an email.

She defended the former officer, saying “he was well-respected by his colleagues and supervisors.”

Brown had previously been fired for excessive force, but the termination was later reduced to a suspension.

It would not have impacted his workers’ compensation claim.

A spokesperson for the city said in an email that under state law “poor performance or misconduct are not among the bases for challenging claims.”

More scrutiny

Brown’s workers’ compensation claim was handled by Ron Meuser’s firm in Eden Prairie. 

Meuser has represented the majority of MPD officers who have filed for workers’ compensation in recent years.

His office declined an interview request from 5 INVESTIGATES because they were not authorized to speak about Brown’s case.

An attorney with Meuser’s office testified at the state capitol earlier this week against proposed changes to the state law. 

Professor David Larson, who specializes in employment and labor law at Mitchell Hamline, says without changes, the law opens the door for people attempting to avoid accountability.

“The opportunity is there,” he said. “I don’t think we can presume that the majority of cases are that, and we shouldn’t, but the opportunity is there.”

Again, only Brown can say why he filed for workers’ compensation.

In his police report, he wrote that “he felt a large thud to my head which shook my brain” and that he feared for his life.

He also said he suffered a broken hand from the only punch he claimed to throw.

Kushner, the defense attorney who accused Brown of lying, said the video should bring all of his claims into question.

“These officers are getting very large workers’ comp claims,” Kushner said, “You would hope that they would scrutinize them some more.”