The Minneapolis Police Department is facing 61 lawsuits alleging officers used excessive force that led to injuries, a figure that’s more than triple the 19 misconduct lawsuits pending against St. Paul police.
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said the number of misconduct suits in Minneapolis wasn’t extraordinary. She said the city is the largest city in the state, so the actions of its police force naturally draw extra scrutiny.
“Our police department has over a million contacts per year with members of the public,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in an email. “A very few of those interactions result in claims and lawsuits, as with any major metropolitan area around the country.”
But critics say the numbers are excessive. Some say a subset of officers acts with impunity, while others believe race plays a factor.
In addition to the pending lawsuits, 110 misconduct suits have been resolved since January 2011. Of those, 51 were resolved in favor of the city or dismissed by the court, said Peter Ginder, Minneapolis deputy city attorney. The city made payouts in the other 59 cases.
The litigation is costly for Minneapolis taxpayers. Between 2006 and 2012, the city paid out about $14 million in police misconduct cases, according to an earlier Star Tribune report. And in May, it agreed to pay out $3 million for the 2010 death of a homeless man who was forcefully restrained by police.
Those who have filed lawsuits include Darryl Gill. He said two officers arrested him outside a nightclub on a traffic warrant in April 2012. They injured his rib when they took him “roughly” to the ground, and they pulled a dreadlock out of his scalp, according to his lawsuit.
Gill, who was 33 at the time, acknowledged telling an officer he’d knock him out if he weren’t handcuffed. The officer “responded to Gill’s statement by violently jerking Gill’s left arm so hard that he fractured Gill’s wrist in two places,” the lawsuit said.
Robert Bennett, whose law firm represents Gill, said some police officers are competent and professional. But others “act with impunity” under the impression they can get away with abusive behavior, he said.
Others think race is a factor. Teresa Nelson, the legal director of the Minnesota affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said many minorities think there’s an ingrained police culture to violate rights and dehumanize minorities.
Retired Sgt. Al Berryman, a past president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, denied that department culture does something to foster police violence.
“Cops … go into dangerous situations, into tumultuous situations, and try to make decision for their safety and for the victim,” he said. “You have fights and people get hurt and there are broken bones. I do believe cops, like everyone else, make mistakes. You’re excited, you’re scared, you’re nervous, and you react, and sometimes you react and wish you could undo it.”
But attorney Albert Goins, who represents people who allege police misconduct, said plenty of police officers feel like their actions don’t have consequences.
“A lot of street officers think they can use excessive, even deadly, force without any real fear of repercussions,” Goins said.
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