State investigation: City, Minneapolis Police Department engage in ‘practice of race discrimination’

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After a nearly two-year investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) says it found “probable cause” that the city and MPD have a pattern or practice of race discrimination.

The state launched the investigation on June 1, 2020, days after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

RELATED: Minnesota Department of Human Rights files civil rights charge against Minneapolis Police Department

Since that time, MDHR says it reviewed 700 hours of bodycam video and nearly 480,000 pages of city and MPD documents — including training materials, policies and procedures, officers’ disciplinary records, policy development materials, reports and assessments, internal and external communication and correspondence, documents reflecting interagency agreements, public messaging documents, and data from MPD’s covert social media accounts. The department also observed 87 hours of 2021 MPD academy training, conducted ride-alongs with officers in each precinct and analyzed MPD data on all use-of-force incidents from 2010 through 2020.

Specifically, MDHR says it found that MPD engages in discriminatory, race-based policing, as evidenced by:

  • Racial disparities in how MPD officers use force, stop, search, arrest, and cite people of color, particularly Black individuals, compared to white individuals in similar circumstances.
  • MPD officers’ use of covert social media to surveil Black individuals and Black organizations, unrelated to criminal activity.
  • MPD officers’ consistent use of racist, misogynistic, and disrespectful language.

MDHR said MPD’s discriminatory practices are caused primarily by the department culture, in which:

  • MPD officers, supervisors, and field training officers receive deficient training, which emphasizes a paramilitary approach to policing that results in officers unnecessarily escalating encounters or using inappropriate levels of force.
  • Accountability systems are insufficient and ineffective at holding officers accountable for misconduct.
  • Former and current City and MPD leaders have not collectively acted with the urgency, coordination, and intentionality necessary to address racial disparities in policing to improve public safety and increase community trust.

“Without fundamental organizational culture changes, reforming MPD’s policies, procedures, and trainings will be meaningless,” MDHR’s report says.

MDHR also said the lack of action from city and MPD leaders has allowed the culture to fester and “resulted in unlawful policing practices that undermine public safety,” and the department says past and present leaders have been aware and failed to address the problems.

“I’m looking for immediate action,” said Cynthia Wilson, president of the Minnesota NAACP. Wilson said it was “without a doubt” that interim MPD Chief Amelia Huffman should resign.

Wilson wants Frey to take swift action, or step aside so someone else can.

“It is hard to go in and tell somebody, ‘you know what, you’re going to be held accountable for this,’ and so if you can’t do that then step down and let someone who is willing to do that work come in,” Wilson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Wilson is also calling for transparency in hiring and training practices, and more importantly, accountability.

“Today, if I was the mayor, there would be some people losing their jobs,” Wilson said.

Additional findings by MDHR include:

  • MPD officers use higher rates of severe force against Black citizens than white citizens in similar circumstances.
  • Officers inappropriately use neck restraints and chemical irritants, and use them more against Black citizens than white citizens under similar circumstances.
  • MPD officers are more frequently injured when using inappropriate levels of force and neck restraints.
  • Minneapolis officers are more likely to stop vehicles with people of color and Indigenous citizens, and treat those citizens differently during traffic stops — including searching their vehicles more often than white citizens, using force against them more often and citing and arresting them more often in similar circumstances.
  • MPD officers improperly and excessively cite Black citizens, leading to collateral consequences that “can be substantial, and at times, devastating.”
  • MPD uses covert social media to target Black leaders, Black organizations — including the NAACP — and criticize elected officials without any public safety purpose or any apparent oversight and accountability mechanisms.
  • The Minneapolis police culture includes officers consistently using racist, misogynistic and disrespectful language, with those who do so rarely held accountable.
  • MPD’s training and guidance for officers are deficient, which exacerbates its discriminatory, race-based policing.
  • MPD’s emphasis on aggression during training contributes to officers unnecessarily escalating encounters and using inappropriate levels of force with community members.

When officers should be held accountable, they rarely are, mainly because of “ineffective accountability and oversight systems,” MDHR says. Also, leaders rarely hold supervisors accountable for failing to properly hold the officers under their supervision accountable.

“In one case from 2017, a supervisor approved the use of force of an MPD officer who came into a bedroom to find an unarmed Black 14-year-old sitting on the floor using his phone. When the 14-year-old did not immediately stand up when instructed to do so, the officer quickly hit the 14-year-old with their flashlight, splitting his ear open, and then grabbed him by the neck and placed him in an unconscious neck restraint. By deeming this officer’s use of force appropriate, the supervisor effectively authorized the officer to continue using such egregious force in the future.”

MDHR investigation findings into Minneapolis, MPD’s racial discrimination

In that 2017 case, MDHR says MPD leaders didn’t hold that supervisor accountable.

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The department’s report notes that the current structures that are supposed to review misconduct and conduct oversight are:

  • MPD’s Internal Affairs Unit
  • MPD’s Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR)
  • The Police Conduct Review Panel (PCRP)
  • The Minneapolis Human Resources Department
  • The Minneapolis Attorney’s Office
  • The Police Conduct Oversight Commission (PCOC)

However, OPCR and Internal Affairs aren’t sufficiently independent, MDHR found, and the PCOC is ineffective in its current implementation. That leads to inadequate investigations into complaints and a lack of officers held accountable. Additionally, OPCR and Internal Affairs don’t properly identify allegations of racially biased policing and don’t have proper training on the topic.

“In many cases, Internal Affairs and OPCR investigators do not review available body-worn camera footage to confirm what actually occurred, which likely contributes to high rates of improperly investigated police misconduct complaints,” MDHR’s report states.

In decisions that lead to officer discipline, MDHR says few cases actually go to arbitration. When it does, overturned decisions are often due to preventable factors within the city’s and MPD’s control, such as unnecessary delays in the investigation, discipline being more severe than prior cases without evidence to justify it, statements prejudicing the investigation or treating the officer inconsistently with discipline justification.

MDHR also found:

  • MPD doesn’t have any effective Early Intervention System to support officers or hold them accountable, despite dozens of officers describing the mental toll of policing and the need for mental health and wellness support.
  • Minneapolis fails to provide all citizens accused of crimes with evidence relevant to their defense, as they’re charged with doing, and their failure disproportionately affects Black citizens, MDHR says.

MDHR says it will work with the city to develop a consent decree — a court-enforceable agreement that identifies specific changes to be made and timelines for those changes to occur — and will meet with community members, MPD officers, city staff and others to gather feedback on what should be in the consent decree.

However, the city and MPD have to make several immediate changes themselves, MDHR says, including: improving accountability and oversight, improving officer training and communicating honestly with the public.

Interim Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman said the department has been implementing reforms during MDHR’s investigation and continues to do so.

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“We have challenges ahead, but I am confident there are men and women in the Minneapolis Police Department who have the desire to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” Huffman said.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said some of the issues MDHR’s report highlighted are already being addressed and some still need to be addressed.

“There have been so many instances in the past where investigations has been conducted, findings have been had, recommendations have been given and then the action ultimately fell short. This time, it needs to be different,” Frey said.

Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Sherral Schmidt said the union is committed to addressing the issues.

“The MDHR found that the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of race discrimination. We look forward to examining the evidence that was used to come to their determination so we can move forward as a department. We are committed to moving forward in a way that addresses identified issues head on, and restores the community’s faith in those who are entrusted with public safety.”

Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Sherral Schmidt

Attorneys Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms, who represented the families of George Floyd and Amir Locke, called MDHR’s finding “monumental.”

“The historic finding by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in a pattern and practice of race discrimination and race-based policing caused primarily by an organizational culture is monumental in its importance. We hope this leads to placing the city and the police department under a state-ordered consent decree, which would give us assurance, at last, that real change in policing is possible, and Minneapolis can become a safer city for its Black residents. We applaud Gov. Tim Walz and Chair Rebecca Lucero for her courage and tenacity in documenting and stating unequivocally what we have been arguing since the killing of George Floyd – that this pattern and practice exists, and it’s deadly for Minneapolis’ Black residents. It grieves us that this pattern and practice, which was so graphically displayed to the world in the video of George Floyd’s death, persisted for another two years to senselessly claim the life of Amir Locke, both of whom were cited in the finding. We are grateful and deeply hopeful that change is possible and is imminent. We call on city, state, and Police leaders to accept the challenge of these findings and make meaningful change at last to create trust between communities of color in Minneapolis and those who are sworn to protect and serve them.”

Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms

The state’s investigation is in addition to a separate, federal investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department by the Department of Justice.

One day after former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering Floyd, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the federal investigation will assess the department’s current system of accountability.

“We have received the Minnesota Department of Human Rights’ report today, and we will review it and consider the findings in our ongoing investigation. Although there is some overlap in the scope of the two investigations, the MDHR and Justice Department investigations and conclusions are separate and independent, proceeding under different legal authorities. Our investigation is examining issues beyond the discriminatory policing issues examined in the MDHR investigation. For example, the Justice Department is examining whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force or treating individuals with behavioral disabilities unlawfully. Until we conclude our own investigation, we do not expect to be in a position to comment further on the findings in the MDHR report.”

DOJ Spokesperson

RELATED: DOJ will look for patterns similar to what 5 INVESTIGATES found at MPD

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CLICK HERE for KSTP’s full coverage of the Floyd murder.

View the complete findings below. Wednesday’s full news conferences can be watched in the players above.

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