Rebecca Omastiak & Callan Gray
Updated: February 18, 2021 09:01 AM
Created: February 17, 2021 11:57 AM
Wednesday, Minneapolis city leaders began what they said will be regular preparation briefings in the days leading up to the March trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey began the news conference by saying safety and community engagement remain top priorities for city leaders as they make preparation plans.
"As we've seen in so many other cities, as we lead into trials involving Black men who have been killed by police officers, there is great frustration, there is anxiety and there's trauma," Frey said. "We anticipate that trauma increasing as we get closer into jury deliberations and the verdict and we believe that it is on us to honor the magnitude of this moment and ensure that our families in this city feel safe."
Frey said city leaders have been working with the leaders of 12 jurisdictions in recent months to develop a safety plan in preparation for the March trial.
City Attorney Jim Rowader provided the current trial timeline, stating that, pending the outcome of the latest appeal, trial is set to begin March 8 at the Hennepin County Government Center. Cameras will be allowed in the courtroom and proceedings will therefore be made visually available.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Peter Cahill is presiding and plans to spend time each morning of the trial's early days addressing preliminary motions before moving on to jury selection.
Once the jury is selected and sworn in, March 29 is the expected date for opening statements from the prosecution. Then, the prosecution's calling of witnesses will take place. The defense's opening statements will then take place, moving to the calling of witnesses.
Trial will proceed to closing arguments, then the jury will be sequestered while they deliberate. Rowader said the entire trial process is expected to last until mid-to late-April.
In terms of law enforcement preparations, Frey said there will be an increased law enforcement presence as the trial proceeds, and that at full capacity, the city will be able to call upon 2,000 members of the National Guard as well as 1,100 law enforcement officers.
At the city’s request, those individuals will assist in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Meanwhile, a security perimeter is planned around the Hennepin County Government Center, City Hall and other nearby buildings in preparation for the trial.
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said, going forward, law enforcement plans will be a regular component of the preparation briefings. Arradondo said time and communication are critical in ensuring public safety, which is why he said he has been regularly meeting with community and law enforcement leaders during recent months.
In terms of street closures, Frey said the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue will remain closed to vehicular traffic.
“We recognize that this is a space for healing, we recognize that throughout the trial itself, people will want to gather, they’ll want to protest, they’ll want to express their First Amendment rights and we want to enable them to do so safely and peacefully.”
Outlining its concern over First Amendment protections, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) recalled on Wednesday the lawsuits it had filed last summer on behalf of protesters and journalists whom it claimed were hurt and were targeted by law enforcement officers.
"As the trial nears, we expect that our elected officials will create a plan that respects the rights of a free press and of assembly before, during and after the trial of Derek Chauvin, and ensures that any enforcement is neither selective nor biased against BIPOC people," the ACLU-MN said, in part.
During the morning news conference, Frey also said there are efforts in place to ensure the section of the city surrounding 38th and Chicago continues to receive “robust city services,” including snow removal, street maintenance, EMS services and 911 response.
In terms of additional street closures, Deputy Director of the Public Works Department Brette Hjelle said on March 1, Sixth Street South will be closed between Third and Fourth avenues. Any other street closures will be announced by city leaders as they are planned.
For the community, city officials said they are working on establishing two-way communication processes with neighborhood leaders and residents to be able to communicate quickly with those who need information and resources.
Additionally, Sasha Cotton, the director for the city’s new Office of Violence Prevention, said her department is working with the city’s Neighborhood and Community Relations Department on a preparedness toolkit—which includes safety tips and best practices, among other information—to help neighborhoods and residents.
"As the national spotlight again turns to Minneapolis, our focus will remain on the safety of residents, small businesses and neighborhoods whose lives and livelihoods will continue to be impacted throughout the trial," Frey said. "Our city will be tested in the weeks to come – and our local government is prepared to meet those challenges together."
For business leaders, the city’s Director of Economic Policy and Development Erik Hansen said he recognizes the past year has been difficult for businesses and that now is a critical time for preparation. Hansen said businesses may want to take additional safety precautions and that ready.gov has helpful sample preparedness plans businesses can use.
“During this time period you also might want to consider adding physical barriers such as boarding or permanent security gates, we suggest you check in with your insurance company to make sure your insurance policies are up to date,” Hansen said. “People might want to consider uploading important documents to cloud, online cloud services for examples, a Dropbox or Google Drive, or bring physical copies of these documents to an outside location.”
In a subsequent news conference Wednesday afternoon, law enforcement officials stated that they are currently in the first phase of their Operation Safety Net plan, which is the planning and preparation phase.
“This will be a unified command,” Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said. “It will allow all of us to be able to respond metro and region wide if needed.”
Col. Matt Langer, with the Minnesota State Patrol, said law enforcement planning has been taking place “in earnest all summer long.”
Langer said the Operation Safety Net plan has a two-fold mission: To protect First Amendment nonviolent protests and demonstrations as well as prevent large-scale, violent civil disturbances, property damage, fires and looting.
The second phase of Operation Safety Net will take place once the trial and jury selection begins, the third phase will be implemented when closing arguments and jury deliberations begin, and the fourth phase will be a reduction in law enforcement staffing following the trial.
Officials said the law enforcement presence will be at its peak during the third phase. They will be supported by the Minnesota National Guard.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said that while about 2,000 Minnesota National Guard troops will be focused on the west metro, including Minneapolis, another 1,000 will support the east metro.
“Our primary focus is to support the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul,” said Maj. General Shawn Manke, Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General. “Unlike last summer, the authorization to pre-stage National Guardsmen will provide us preparation and more flexible and dynamic plan as we move forward.”
He acknowledged that many in the community don’t want to see troops in their neighborhoods but said the last year has been unprecedented.
“It is my sincere hope that the people of our communities understand that we are not a threat, we are here to provide security,” Maj. Gen. Manke said. “When we stand watch over your communities, we are standing watch over our communities — our families, our friends, and our coworkers. We are members of your communities, our primary goal is to keep these communities safe.”
At least a dozen mutual aid agencies are involved in the response during the trial.
Harrington said law enforcement officers have been working to "learn some lessons" from past court trials and their aftermath in places like Los Angeles and Ferguson, Missouri.
"We are committed … to learn from history and not repeat it," Harrington said.
Harrington went on to say, “While we’re there to prevent riots, destruction of property, personal injury and attacks on others, we are there, absolutely, to keep our commitment that each one of us has taken an oath to do, to protect the Constitution and support the Constitution, and that means that First Amendment right to be heard and to freely assemble has to also be guaranteed. And so it’s a balancing act as we do both of those things."
Harrington also said law enforcement officials are monitoring for any indication of plans to cause disruption.
“We are coordinating our intelligence nationally, so we are working with our federal, county and local partners to gather as much information about extremist groups who we have seen here in the past, or extremist groups that in their verbage - to the extent we can track that in public sources - that are coming here for the trial,” said Harrington. “As of right now we don’t have any current actionable intelligence about groups planning to come here to disrupt the trial or cause disorder.”
Our primary focus will be ensuring the safety of our communities, preventing criminal activity and safeguarding the peaceful expression of first amendment rights.— MN National Guard (@MNNationalGuard) February 17, 2021
More than 500 of our Guardsmen live in the communities impacted by civil unrest last year. When we stand watch over your communities, we stand watch over OUR communities, families, friends and co-workers. Thank you for your support as we help to keep these communities safe.— MN National Guard (@MNNationalGuard) February 17, 2021
Law enforcement also issued a warning for those who are considering a demonstration.
“We all want to see justice served, in order for that to happen everybody needs to respect the process let our deputies do their jobs, which is to keep people safe so the courts can do their job,” Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said. “If you break things, burn things, hurt people, hurt people’s livelihoods, I’m here to say you will go to jail.”
The Minnesota State Patrol also urged protesters to stay off of the highway.
“There are many places to exercise your First Amendment right, the freeway is not one of those places,” Col. Matt Langer said. “Why? Because it's incredibly dangerous and I don’t want to see someone get hurt.”
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