Three Minneapolis police officers were cited for assault in Apple Valley last year after the officers, who are white, were among a group of white men who followed a group of black men into a bar parking lot, knocking one of them down and beating him, according to a police report obtained Thursday by the Star Tribune.
Racial slurs were used against the black man during the attack, the report said.
The officers, William C. Woodis, Christopher J. Bennett, and Andrew R. Allen, followed the men as they left Bogart’s Place on Garrett Avenue, according to the police report. A security camera video shows the off-duty officers and the others follow the black men into the parking lot, the report said. The action then moved out of view of the camera. The video was not immediately available.
A lawyer for the three officers disputed that description of the encounter, saying his clients didn’t chase anyone down, didn’t use racial slurs and that the video shows that the alleged victims were the first to get physical, pushing one of the officers.
The Star Tribune learned about the altercation this week from a source. At the time of the original incident, the Apple Valley report didn’t identify any of the men involved as Minneapolis police officers.
The case comes to light shortly after two white Minneapolis police officers were suspended over a June 29 altercation with black men outside a bar in Green Bay, Wis. In both cases, the officers involved were disrespectful toward local police who responded.
All five officers from the two cases are subject to Internal Affairs investigations.
One of the men identified as a victim in the Apple Valley incident, Rodney Spann, told the Star Tribune on Thursday that the group of white men shouted racial slurs while beating his uncle, Mike Spann. He said they slammed his uncle against two vehicles in the parking lot and knocked him to the ground before kicking and punching him. Rodney Spann tried to break up the fight but was hit in the face by Woodis, according to the report.
“The white guys were on the attack,” said Jon Bjork, a witness who related the event to Apple Valley police. Bjork, 70, said he didn’t know anyone in either group.
In the Green Bay case, officers Brian Thole and Shawn Powell used racial and sexual slurs while berating the Green Bay police officers who showed up to investigate. One of the Minneapolis officers said he felt threatened by a black man with whom he had heated words and punched his face, igniting a brawl.
Thole and Powell were not arrested, but Green Bay police notified Minneapolis police.
Woodis, 47, and Bennett, 38, pleaded guilty in Dakota County court June 3 to disorderly conduct. Charges against Allen, 28, were dismissed.
Rodney Spann, 29, said the Minneapolis Internal Affairs Department contacted him last week for a statement. He wasn’t able to testify against the officers in Dakota County court, he said, because on the day he was to testify, he got a call telling him that the case had been settled.
Spann, upset that the officers were convicted only of misdemeanors, said they should have been prosecuted for a hate crime.
“You’re supposed to protect and serve whether you’re on duty or off duty,” he said. “I’m scared of police officers now.”
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau was not available for comment Thursday.
According to Apple Valley police: Rodney and Mike Spann, 24, Lovell Garner, 29, and Tyrone Franson, 32, all of whom are black, entered the bar early on Nov. 19.
Rodney Spann said Thursday that he and his companions tried to shake hands and be friendly with the other men but met with hostile language.
Garner and the others decided to leave and headed toward the parking lot, where several people punched and kicked Mike Spann, according to the police report.
The report said Rodney Spann was left with a cut to his lip. Mike Spann had injuries to his finger, elbow and two lumps on his head. He was treated at the scene.
Woodis, Bennett and Allen told Apple Valley police the black men had been causing problems. Woodis said the black men came up to them for no reason and tried to shake their hands; Woodis said he and the other officers decided to leave the bar, but that the black men followed them and began swinging, the report said.
Woodis, who smelled of alcohol, became “verbally aggressive” as he was questioned and was placed in the back of a squad car, the police report said. Woodis, Allen and Bennett had no visible injuries, the report said.
Kevin Beck, an attorney who represented the Minneapolis officers, said they didn’t pursue the alleged victims.
“My clients walked out of the bar,” he said.
The three were cited for fifth-degree assault, fourth-degree damage to property and disorderly conduct.
Star Tribune reporter Randy Furst contributed to this report.