Prosecutors must disclose evidence that could discredit police officers. Hennepin County is relying on a ‘failing’ system.
Cory Fitch’s squad car suddenly veered to the right.
The Minneapolis Police officer was trying to pull over a drunk driver in north Minneapolis when the driver stopped, got out and ran around the back of her car.
Dash camera video shows that’s when Fitch hit Celeste Dawkins with the front of his car, knocking the 47-year-old to the ground.
Fitch then jumped out, screamed expletives and kicked Dawkins as she laid on the ground that night in November 2013.
After she was taken to the hospital, Dawkins took Fitch to court.
The recently retired officer claimed it was an accident and that he hit the brakes, but his car slid on the “light frost.”
A federal judge found that the dashcam video shows Fitch did not hit the brakes.
“It cannot reasonably be disputed… that Fitch turned his squad car in Dawkins’s direction immediately before striking her,” Judge Richard Kyle wrote.
Despite video evidence, the judge’s ruling, and a 100-thousand dollar legal settlement, internal records show Fitch was never disciplined.
Without discipline, Fitch’s name was likely not added to something commonly known as the Brady List.
Brady refers to a Supreme Court case from the 1960’s.
It requires prosecutors to find and disclose evidence that could be used to challenge the credibility of officers in future cases. It typically includes officers who have mishandled evidence, falsified a police report or not told the truth in previous court cases.
But the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is accused of failing to track and disclose damning information that could jeopardize their criminal cases, according to a 5 INVESTIGATES review of court and state records.
“We don’t have a Brady List”
This week, state investigators described efforts by city and county prosecutors to track those officers in Minneapolis as a “systemic failure.”
A public defender recently called it an “indictment of a system that protects dishonest officers.”
A judge said last year she was “particularly concerned” by the county’s narrow view of its Brady obligations.
In an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES, one of the county’s chief prosecutors said he can’t even say how many officers might be on the list because “we don’t have a Brady list.”
Instead, Dan Mabley, the Criminal Chief County Attorney, described a complex flagging system based solely on whether officers are formally disciplined by their departments.
“We only get discipline, police discipline records,” said Mabley, who is the head of the Brady Committee that decides whether evidence about a police officer must be disclosed to defense attorneys in a criminal case.
“The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office seems to have a policy of trusting the Minneapolis Police to decide who belongs on a Brady list,” said Rachel Moran, a University of St. Thomas law professor who spent the past year researching Brady policies. “And I don’t think the Minneapolis Police have earned that trust.”
No Discipline. No Flag.
Mabley acknowledged that based on a Memo of Understanding with Minneapolis Police, Cory Fitch would not have been flagged in their system for claiming he accidentally hit a woman with his squad car because he was never formally disciplined.
While the judge specifically refuted Fitch’s story, the Minneapolis Police Federation says he should not be considered a Brady officer because there was no finding from the court that Fitch was deceptive or untruthful.
The union said that’s also why Mark Hanneman should not be flagged as a Brady officer.
Hanneman made headlines earlier this year after he shot and killed Amir Locke.
As 5 INVESTIGATES first reported, Hanneman’s credibility was questioned in court less than a year earlier after a judge found he “conducted an illegal search” during a drug raid in north Minneapolis, leading to the case being dismissed.
Hanneman refused to admit to the search even after video from body-worn cameras was played in court and confirmed what happened, according to court transcripts that have not been previously reported.
Records show he was never disciplined.
Mabley, who was not involved in that case, acknowledged it raises questions about Hanneman’s credibility but does not mean he should automatically be flagged in their system.
“Obviously, I knew nothing about this,” Mabley said. “I don’t know what system it would be that we could put in place to flag that.”
“We weren’t trying to hide anything”
Asked whether the county’s system is working, Mabley said “it depends on your point of view.”
From the view of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the system is failing.
“Neither prosecutors nor public defenders have the information they need to properly prosecute or defend a case,” state investigators found this week.
The finding was part of a two year investigation into the pattern and practices of the Minneapolis Police Department that was launched after the murder of George Floyd.
A spokesperson for the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said they were “deeply troubled” by the report and will “collaborate with the City of Minneapolis to help improve the communication and provide Brady materials as required by law.”
But the State’s investigation and the County Attorney’s Office also appeared to point the finger at MPD, which did not respond to a request for comment.
“As the report asserts, there are grave concerns regarding the Minneapolis Police Department’s disciplinary system and how that information is relayed to our office,” the statement read.
Prosecutors are accused of not always disclosing that information.
Last year, Judge Nicole Engish had to order the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to hand over Brady materials on officers involved in a shooting.
The judge found the prosecutors in that case “may not be gathering or reviewing any records or information for potential impeachment” of its law enforcement witnesses.
“This was a legitimate legal dispute,” said Dan Mabley, adding that prosecutors complied with the judge’s order. “We weren’t trying to hide anything.”
5 INVESTIGATES also asked Mabley if he could provide even a ballpark estimate of how many Minneapolis police officers are flagged in their system.
“I don’t know,” Mabley responded. “I have no idea.”