Minneapolis police to investigate Indians' claim of brutality
Chris Graves and Howie Padilla
Published Jan. 30, 2003
Community leaders called Wednesday for the firing of two unknown Minneapolis police officers who witnesses said manhandled an American Indian man before leaving him and a woman outside in freezing temperatures.
Minneapolis Police Chief Robert Olson, who said he was "very concerned," met with leaders from the Indian community Tuesday and said the department is investigating the allegations.
Two residents of the Little Earth housing complex in south Minneapolis have told community leaders and police investigators that they saw two officers drag the man and woman from the back seat of a marked squad car late Friday night. Those witnesses said they saw officers assault the man in a parking lot before leaving him unconscious after midnight. The temperature was 2 above.
Robert Lilligren speaks to a crowd of approximately 100 supporters at the Little Earth housing complex
"They left them out to freeze," said Ellie Webster, executive director of Little Earth Community Partnership.
She also said that off-duty officers who took the man to a hospital later told a Little Earth security supervisor that someone had urinated on the man's upper torso and head.
The man and woman are homeless and were believed to have been drunk Friday night, community leaders said.
Police and community leaders still don't know many details, including the identity of the officers and one of the victims.
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No matter what the investigation finds, the allegation has already created damage, Olson said.
"This is terrible," he said. "We are very, very, very concerned about this. We have launched a full-scale investigation to find out what happened."
The charges are similar to those a decade ago when two Indian men who were drunk were stuffed into the trunk of a Minneapolis squad car to be taken to a detoxification center. In 1995, Charles Lone Eagle and John Boney were awarded $100,000 each by a Hennepin County jury after jurors found that officers Michael Lardy and Marvin Schumer violated their human and civil rights.
The officers said they put the men in the trunk as the quickest way to get them medical attention.
The new allegations come as community members try to resolve who will speak in federal mediation sessions that are aimed at improving relations with police. More specifically, Olson has also met in recent weeks with Indian leaders who are concerned about how crimes against Indians have been investigated.
"We've got good things going and then wham, this happens," Olson said. "It's just disheartening."
Clyde Bellecourt, who appeared Wednesday with more than 100 community members at a news conference, called the new allegations "the worst thing you could do to someone."
Community activist Spike Moss, who also attended the news conference, agreed.
"What was done was not human, not professional," he said. "It was not godly."
City Council Members Robert Lilligren and Dean Zimmermann apologized to the Indian community during the news conference.
"I can tell you this is not an isolated incident," Zimmerman said. "On my desk, I've got a stack of reports an inch thick of complaints against police."
On Monday, investigators began trying to identify the officers involved in the allegations, Olson said. He said they also are trying to find the man and woman to interview them.
Webster said the man who they believe was the victim was highly intoxicated Friday and can't remember the incident. Community leaders didn't identify the man, who they said was at the Wednesday news conference.
It remained unclear Wednesday how or where the man and woman came into contact with the police.
Bellecourt said community leaders have confirmed the chain of events that started in the parking lot in the 2400 block of Ogema Place through witnesses, two off-duty Minneapolis police officers working in the housing complex and hospital staff members.
Webster said a resident told her that she saw two officers in a squad car pull into the parking lot and drag a man and a woman from the back seat. The resident called her mother at 11:47 p.m. Friday and told her about the incident, which was going on as she was on the phone.
Webster declined to identify the resident, saying she was frightened and requested anonymity. But Webster said the resident called a dispatcher at the Little Earth housing development at 12:11 a.m. Saturday to report the incident. She feared calling 911.
"She didn't know what to do," Webster said. "When you call 911, the police come."
Two other Minneapolis officers, who were working off-duty but in uniform, responded to the housing complex call a short time later and took the man to Hennepin County Medical Center.
Larry Leventhal, who is representing the man believed to be the victim, said his client hadn't suffered permanent injuries, but Leventhal said he hadn't yet read medical reports.
Although the man's shirt and pants have been washed, Leventhal has the man's jacket, shoelaces and headband.
"We've talked to some DNA testing experts," Leventhal said. "We are hopeful that it will give some indication that urine was present and when the officers who did this are located, there may be a match."
It's not clear that anybody saw who may have urinated on the man.
The woman who was dragged out of the squad car spent the night in a station wagon that she found unlocked, Webster said. She declined offers of overnight shelter and apparently left Saturday morning.
Police Lt. Rick Thomas declined to identify the two off-duty officers who took the man to the hospital, citing the investigation. Those officers followed appropriate procedures, he said.
Off-duty officers are hired by the Little Earth housing complex on the eastern border of the Phillips neighborhood to provide extra policing and security. Officers answer calls from Minneapolis police dispatchers about crimes in the area as well as those from a dispatcher at the complex.
Webster said she has been pleased with the officers who work off-duty at the housing complex and emphasized that the off-duty officers did nothing wrong.
Those at the news conference said they don't believe that all officers are bad, but that there are a few who have the mentality that it is all right to abuse minorities.
"There always have to be a few bad eggs," Webster said. "But those few sure make life miserable for all of us."
Bellecourt and Moss vowed to rally community members to march against police brutality next Thursday. Some marchers will start from the North Side while others will start from the South Side, converging at City Hall. The "March of Pain and Shame" will begin at 10 a.m. and end at noon, Bellecourt said.
Sgt. John Delmonico, president of the police federation, said he could not comment on the allegations because he has not seen the facts of the case.
Mayor R.T. Rybak's spokeswoman said he referred all questions to Olson.
Olson said he hopes that bridges built have not been destroyed by the allegations. He said the consensus among those at Tuesday's meeting was that it is important to continue efforts.
"We took a step forward and this has taken us 10, 20 steps back," he said. "But you still go on. You don't just stop. You regroup and go forward."
-- Chris Graves is at email@example.com.-- Howie Padilla is at firstname.lastname@example.org