Minneapolis council to discuss discrimination lawsuitby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
This week, the Minneapolis city council and mayor will get a progress report on a lawsuit involving the city's police department. The suit alleges that five African American police officers were denied advancement and unfairly disciplined because of their race. Police officials dispute the allegations and they say the department is making strides toward a more diverse police force.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Lawyers for the five plaintiffs and the city recently met with a federal magistrate judge to discuss a possible settlement.
However, Minneapolis city officials say there is no settlement agreement. Mayoral spokesman Jeremy Hanson says the council may or may not take action after meeting with the city attorney.
"The purpose of the closed meeting this Friday is for Mayor Rybak and the city council to be briefed on this matter by the city attorney and to provide the city attorney with further direction on the lawsuit," Hanson said.
The five plaintiffs are Sgt. Charlie Adams, Lt. Lee Edwards, Lt. Dennis Hamilton, Lt. Don Harris and Lt. Medaria Arrodondo. Each man has been on the force at least 18 years.
Attorney John Klassen, who is representing the officers, could not be reached for comment. But he spoke to MPR shortly after filing the lawsuit last December.
"This is an extremely detailed, lengthy complaint which sets out a long history of claims," Klassen said then. "Including breaches by the city of Minneapolis of the federally mediated agreement back in 2003, the intent of which was to correct some of these problems but... its obligations have never been filled by the Minneapolis police department."
The complaint alleges that for years, black officers have suffered under a racially hostile environment.
It says that in 1992, black officers received a hate letter signed 'KKK' through the interoffice mail.
The complaint also alleges that when Chief Tim Dolan took over, that he demoted high-ranking black officers and replaced them with white cronies.
Under Dolan, plaintiffs Don Harris and Charlie Adams were moved out of high ranking positions and Lee Edwards was demoted after being accused of drinking and driving a squad car. Edwards was later cleared of the charges.
All the men have remained on the job since the filing of the lawsuit. However, Edwards was briefly put on administrative leave this spring.
Edwards was one of two black officers named in a federal investigation. The other officer, Michael Roberts was indicted. However, Edwards reportedly returned to work last week. Klassen told reporters that the investigation was retaliation over his client's role in the lawsuit.
Police Chief Tim Dolan has said little about the investigation and has not commented directly about the lawsuit. However, he recently denied that his decisions about discipline have been racially biased.
"In the last two years, over 15 officers have been terminated or resigned while under investigation," Dolan said last week. "That number has not been disportionate (sic) for people of color. So it's been all officers. Not to say that it's been unfair to any one group or another. The stats and statistics do not support that."
Dolan says there are signs that future police leadership will be more diverse than it is now.
A recently released department report says one third of the department's lieutenants are people of color. Dolan says those officers are in next in line to become precinct commanders and deputy chiefs.
However, some city officials have acknowledged that the allegations raised in the current suit could discourage more people of color, especially African Americans, from becoming Minneapolis police officers.
- All Things Considered, 07/23/2008, 5:21 p.m.