Minneapolis officials have requested a federal investigation into Sunday’s officer-involved shooting that critically injured a man on the city’s North Side and reignited the debate about race and police use of force.
Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau said Monday that a federal investigation would be completed alongside a separate investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
The move followed a day of protests at the Police Department’s Fourth Precinct headquarters and on the 1600 block of Plymouth Av. N., where 24-year-old Jamar Clark was shot early Sunday.
By 6:45 p.m. Monday, about 100 protesters had moved across Interstate 94 south of Broadway, where they linked arms and blocked traffic lanes for more than two hours before State Patrol officers moved in and arrested 43 adults and eight juveniles, said Lt. Tiffani Schweigart of the State Patrol. Officers and troopers led the cuffed protesters one by one to waiting Metro Transit buses.
Those arrested likely will be cited for unlawful assembly and being pedestrians on the freeway, which are misdemeanors, she said.
Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds could be seen kneeling on the road, hands up and willing to be the first to be arrested.
The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division were called into the investigation less than two days after Clark was shot by officers responding to a disturbance call across the street from the Elks Lodge, a popular neighborhood hangout less than two blocks from the precinct station.
The decision to invite a federal probe differed from other high-profile officer-involved shootings across the country that festered, sometimes for weeks, before outside agencies were called in.
In a letter to Justice Department officials, Hodges wrote that she and Harteau have “utmost faith” in the state investigation but that they believe a federal probe will assist “the interests of transparency and community confidence.”
Protesters with Black Lives Matter had cited a federal investigation as one item on a broader list of demands. The group also has called for the city to release any video footage it may have of the shooting and to immediately fire the officers involved in the incident.
Protesters seek answers
A crowd of about 200 people who gathered outside the Fourth Precinct late Monday afternoon applauded when organizers announced the federal investigation. City officials have cautioned that it may take time, an organizer told the crowd through a bullhorn, adding, “But we can’t let them bury it. … We want to see the footage. We need justice for Jamar’s family. We need justice for this community.”
Organizers, asking protesters not to talk to members of the mainstream media, led chants and riled up a shivering crowd: “Black Lives Matter.” “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”
But before the bullhorns came out, a peaceful crowd grew and spilled out onto Plymouth Avenue N., which was blocked off by organizers.
“We just want some answers,” said Draper Larkins. “The federal investigation might get answers. But we want the correct answers.”
He and others said they hope video of the incident will clear up discrepancies between the accounts of some witnesses and police officers.
Protesters have alleged that Clark, who is black, was unarmed and handcuffed when he was shot. Police have said he was not handcuffed and that Clark was shot during a struggle following an alleged domestic assault. They said Clark was interfering with emergency responders who were treating his girlfriend.
Clark’s record shows he has previous convictions for armed robbery and domestic abuse.
In a news conference Monday afternoon at City Hall, Harteau declined to answer questions about the existence of video showing the shooting, other than to note that the officers were not wearing body cameras. She would not say whether there was dashboard cam video. She also deferred a question about the range at which Clark was shot, citing the investigation. Police said they will investigate surveillance video from the Elks Lodge.
Officials did not name the officers involved in the shooting, but Ramona Dohman, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said the names would be released following meetings with those officers that had been “tentatively scheduled.”
Hodges said at the news conference that the federal investigation would run parallel to a separate investigation by the BCA, which handles the bulk of such investigations in the state. The agency will look into whether two officers violated department policy in the shooting of Clark, who remained in critical condition at a hospital Monday evening.
The two involved officers were put on administrative leave, according to department policy, after undergoing drug testing and visiting a police psychologist.
Gov. Mark Dayton and Rep. Keith Ellison issued statements Monday afternoon in support of the city’s request for federal assistance.
“While I have complete confidence in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, bringing to bear all available resources will ensure justice for all parties,” Dayton said.
Dohman said the length of time for investigations by the BCA can vary, sometimes taking two to four months.
Harteau and Hodges also recognized the work of police officers, especially those who have been working in the Fourth Precinct.
Police union boss Lt. Bob Kroll said that he had spoken briefly with the two officers and cautioned against rushing to judgment without first knowing all the facts. He added that allowing authorities to “cherry-pick” which incidents to investigate sets a “dangerous precedent.” He also questioned the timing of the decision.
“Ideally … in any type of critical incident or murder scene, you want to get there immediately to begin the investigation,” Kroll said. “And now we’re talking about on Monday bringing in someone else. They’re way behind where they should be.”
The BCA’s findings will be turned over to the Hennepin County attorney’s office, which will decide whether to impanel a 23-person grand jury and, potentially, charge the officers.
Some City Council members said that they understand the interest in a speedy release of information but that they also believe it’s important to sort out the facts and follow an established process.
Council Member Blong Yang, who represents part of the North Side and oversees the council’s Public Safety Committee, said he supports a federal investigation. He said the pace of the process so far is in line with those of other officer-involved incidents.
“In my view, you have to trust our process,” Yang said.
As with most police forces, Minneapolis officers are authorized to use deadly force when they believe their lives are in danger or if a suspect is likely to commit a violent crime.
Don Samuels, a Minneapolis school board member and former City Council member, said he talked with family members and others who were confident that the city has video that will paint a clear picture of the incident. Samuels said that releasing the video as soon as possible would be “a good thing” but that he doesn’t believe the city can immediately fire an officer without completing a more detailed investigation.
Council President Barbara Johnson said that she’s following the situation closely and that she believes officials are following the proper process for investigating the shooting. But she said she’s concerned about the ongoing demonstration’s impact on many of her north Minneapolis constituents, especially those who may be blocked from getting to precinct headquarters for police reports or other services.
Johnson pointed to an e-mail she’d received from one resident, who “put on record that there are a lot of people sitting in their homes, not wanting to contribute to the chaos, that are respectful of the work the police do in Minneapolis and know they have a tough job.”
Earlier Monday, Clark’s father, James Hill, told reporters that “my son wasn’t a bad kid. … The police don’t care, the mayor don’t care, the police [chief] don’t care, because they’re going to cover up for each other. My son’s got to get a stand somewhere, and I’m here to give him a stand.”
Hill said his son’s “brain is dead. We are just waiting to pull the plug.”
Staff writers Alejandra Matos, Mary Lynn Smith and Paul Walsh contributed to this report.