November 30, 2018 10:21 PM
Two Minneapolis police officers were placed on paid leave Friday after their apparent involvement in Christmas tree decorations that the city's mayor called "despicable."
The department told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Friday afternoon the officers had been relieved of their duties, meaning they cannot act as law enforcement officers at this time, pending the results of an "expedited investigation."
The names of the officers have not been released.
Earlier in the day, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the officer responsible for reportedly decorating the tree would be terminated.
A Facebook post from Minneapolis City Council Member Phillipe Cunningham Friday said he had spoken to 4th Precinct Inspector Aaron Biard, who said every year an officer is assigned to decorate the tree. And, as a prank, another officer "hung some inappropriate ornaments after it was decorated."
A photo of the tree on social media showed it decorated with a Popeye's Chicken cup, beer cans, junk food bags, cigarettes and other items.
The 4th Precinct has seen plenty of controversy.
"Inspector Biard immediately took action the day the tree went up," Cunningham's post read.
"The inappropriate decorations were taken down. The officer was both disciplined and coached. There will be cultural sensitivity training and a community outreach event planned."
However, in a fiery statement Friday morning, Frey said he would be pursuing more severe punishment.
"This behavior is racist, despicable, and is well beneath the standards of any person who serves the city of Minneapolis," his statement read.
"The offending party will be fired before the day is over. Shifting the culture of the police department requires swift and decisive action. Termination is necessary – both to discipline the officer and to send a clear message: Chief Arradondo and I will not tolerate conduct that departs from our values."
In an afternoon news conference, the mayor backed off, saying legally, the city must first conduct an investigation into those responsible, which is currently underway.
"I believe there are a lot of people working in Minnesota to produce justice but I also think there are many forces working against it and we have to recognize this is a systemic issue and it's not just good enough to fire the individual who put the decorations up," said Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Redmond.
"I believe that these decorations were an attack on the black community and I think the 4th Precinct has been allowed to attack the black community," she said.
Other community activists gathered in front of the precinct Friday evening, condemning the officers' actions and calling for change.
"This incident is a direct reflection of how officers that work in the 4th Precinct view and feel about the community," said Raeisha Williams with Black Coalition. "They literally picked up trash, from who knows where... and put them on a Christmas tree."
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo issued a statement Friday afternoon, saying he was appalled by the incident.
"It was reported to me recently that a racially insensitive display that was put up in the 4th precinct lobby. As soon as it was realized what the display was, it was removed," the statement read.
"As was stated by many members of the community during the public hearing in front of the Public Safety Committee on Thursday, the culture of the Minneapolis Police Department has undergone positive change, however as this recent incident shows we still have much work ahead. Every day I work to bridge the divide between the police department and the community, as do so many others in our department. We will not stop our efforts of treating all those that we serve with fairness, dignity and respect. That manner of treatment is non-negotiable.
"I am ashamed and appalled by the behavior of those who would feel comfortable to act in such a manner that goes against our core department values of Trust, Accountability and Professional Service. I have initiated a full investigation and will make information public when possible in accordance with Minnesota State Statute."
"Chief Arradondo and I are working exceedingly hard to shift the culture and a swift and clear response to something like this is where it must begin," said Frey.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Katherine Johnson and Frank Rajkowski
Updated: November 30, 2018 10:21 PM
Created: November 30, 2018 04:31 PM
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