MPD officer fired over video of Virginia arrest sues city, police chief for defamation

A former Minneapolis police officer who was ousted from the department after video surfaced of a past use-of-force incident in Virginia has sued the city and its police chief for claims of defamation and wrongful termination, among other torts.

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara faced public pressure earlier this year after it came to light that Officer Tyler Timberlake — a former Fairfax County, Virginia, police officer — had used a stun gun and kneeled on an unarmed Black man while carrying out an arrest days after George Floyd’s murder. Timberlake was charged with assault, but a jury ultimately acquitted him in 2022.

Activists questioned how O’Hara could allow an officer with such a history to join a police department that was already under separate state and federal pattern and practice investigations. In April, O’Hara said he was “extremely concerned about what I have just learned pertaining to the hiring of this individual.”

Timberlake began his police academy training on Jan. 9 and was sworn in on March 15. His last day with MPD was July 5.

In a civil suit filed Thursday in Hennepin County, Timberlake now claims the ordeal has tarnished his career and reputation, and that O’Hara lied to the public about his hiring process. He also alleges the city broke state whistleblower and data practices laws.

“Because Timberlake was fired during the probationary period of his employment with MPD, he had no recourse to civil service or union protections,” the lawsuit states. “Timberlake now finds himself with no job, no prospect of getting a job in the field of law enforcement, and his reputation in tatters.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS previously reported on internal documents that revealed O’Hara had sat in on Timberlake’s job interview after Timberlake had disclosed his involvement in a use-of-force incident, and O’Hara proceeded to approve his hiring.

O’Hara later said he had no knowledge of the video showing the controversial arrest when he hired Timberlake. However, Timberlake alleges in his lawsuit that he described the events of the Fairfax incident and subsequent legal proceedings “in great detail” during his Nov. 8, 2022, interview.

Timberlake claims he received assurance from O’Hara that his past use-of-force incident would have no bearing on his status at MPD as long as he “is doing the right thing and meeting community expectations.”

When Timberlake was notified of his termination, he claims he asked if the firing was performance-related or because of complaints of misconduct. Deputy Chief Schoenberger allegedly told him neither was the case.

In October, months after he was fired, Timberlake allegedly received a letter from the city that included a memo from Chief O’Hara explaining his reasoning for letting him go, the filing states. In that letter, O’Hara wrote that Timberlake’s conduct in the Fairfax video “would have violated MPD Policy” and that “The video was not revealed during the hiring process.” Timberlake contends he offered to provide that footage but no one involved in the hiring process asked for it.

Timberlake is seeking damages on grounds of defamation, wrongful termination and violations of the Minnesota Whistleblower Act and Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office said it is reviewing the complaint.