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Posts about Public safety

Gun violence victims remembered by family and friends

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: January 31, 2015 - 4:50 PM

Jammie Franklin stares at the name of a friend killed by gun violence. / RALPH PRUITT for Protect MN

The question hung in the air like church incense: “How many of y’all have lost someone to gun violence?”

After a few moments, a couple dozen hands went up, as their owners looked around the room to see how many others had lost a son, father or cousin to the bullet.

On this particular afternoon on the South Side of Minneapolis, they were far from alone – nearly 100 of their fellow sufferers gathered at Urban Ventures, a non-profit that helps low-income families in the area, to mourn the deaths of loved ones at the aptly-named “Remembrance of Life.”

Among those remembered was James Cole, a 23-year-old aspiring rapper who was shot and killed last November while sitting in his sport utility vehicle near Folwell Park, after an apparent dispute over the sale of merchandise.

His death, like those of Nehemiah Steverson, 17, and 3-year-old Terrell Mayes Jr., are an all-too-familiar part of everyday life in the city’s neediest neighborhoods, where residents are wary of official assurances that the city is a safer place to live these days.

On that Sunday, some of those residents read aloud the names of relatives and friends killed by guns, and displayed their photos.

“Quantell Braxton.”

“It makes us not want to see the summer sometimes,” said V.J. Smith, founder of the anti-violence group MADDADS and the night’s emcee. “We love to see the sunshine but we hate to see the destruction that comes with it.”

 “Sometimes, people will say, ‘well, you’ll get over it,’ but it’s not that easy,” said Smith, who has attended dozens of funerals over the years.

Listening to his words from the front row was T.J. Neely, a former gang member turned community activist, there to honor the memory of his 17-year-old sister, Alisha – known to everyone as "Princess Shay" – whose life was cut short by gunfire five years ago while hanging out with friends outside a house party in the Folwell neighborhood.

Neely recalled his anger after learning of his sister’s death, just days before his release from prison.

“I got a gun before I got a hug when I got out,” Neely told the audience. “And the first thing that came to my head was who’s gotta go keep her company?”

In a strange twist of fate, he says he came face to face with his sister’s suspected killer at her funeral, sitting among her friends, family and neighbors.

“I don’t know how I didn’t shoot that man,” he said. “That was my moment of renewal.”

“Cabrie Young.”

A group of mourners join hands in prayer at the "Remembrance of Life." / RALPH PRUITT for Protect MN

The mourners gathered at the remembrance included Mary Johnson and other members of From Death to Life, who know too well the indiscriminate nature of gun violence: all have either had a son murdered or had one who has taken another’s life.

 “We are actually able to come together and heal together,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she formed the group in 2005, with the aim of helping others through the same inconsolable grief she had endured when her only son, Laramiun Byrd, was gunned down in 1993 – “empowering parents to come to terms with the impact of homicide through emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical healing,” as the group’s website puts it.

Speaker after speaker at the gathering urged the audience to honor the memories of their loved ones by devoting themselves to reducing gun violence.

Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, a local advocacy group that works to pass gun-control laws, said as the event closed: “We realized that when one life is lost, the family is affected by this, and so is the community.

"Ronald Nunn."

Justice Department releases report on MPD "early intervention system"

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: January 28, 2015 - 9:25 PM

Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau spoke the city's drop in crime. / JERRY HOLT

An independent review has concluded that the Minneapolis Police Department’s “early intervention system” should be fundamentally overhauled.

Police Chief Janeé Harteau, who requested the year-long study – titled "Diagnostic Analysis of Minneapolis Police Department, MN" – said it “validates we are headed in the right direction.” She said her department would comply with the report’s recommendations.

“I am pleased to report we have been given some valuable and tangible recommendations on progressive steps we can take to enhance our community relationships and increase public trust and accountability,” said Harteau, who has made no secret of her desire to overhaul the department.

The report, a draft version of which was released in October, was compiled by diagnostics center within the DOJ's Office of Justice Programs.

It identified five key areas of improvement:

  • "Lack of a strategic approach to communications"
  • "Gaps in community relations, involvement and collaboration"
  • "Lack of community knowledge and trust in the police conduct and oversight process"
  • "Lack of an effective EIS that has been fully adopted by MPD"
  • "Inconsistencies and confusion in the coaching process"

Harteau discussed the findings at an community meeting at police headquarters downtown on Wednesday afternoon, joined by Mark Kappelhoff, the deputy assistant general in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and senior diagnostic specialist Hildy Saizow, one of the study’s authors.

“The MPD is committed to promoting transparency and public engagement, to institutionalizing accountability and to doing so in a way that will benefit the officers and help them do their jobs better,” Kappelhoff said at an earlier news conference. “It’s really going to build trust with the community. That’s what today is all about.”

But several speakers at the afternoon meeting said the recommendations didn’t go far enough.

Longtime community leader Spike Moss said that federal officials had previously intervened, but had little to show for it. He wondered whether this time would be any different.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, a local activist and college law professor, said she felt uncomfortable with the lack of transparency around the report.

“I want to make a recommendation that we actually be given a comprehensive report with critical analysis of what happened, the data you looked at and all of the information,” said Levy-Pounds. “If you’re serious about transparency. Anything short of that is a joke.”

Others questioned the effectiveness of the Office of Police Conduct Review, which recently released its end-of-year report, in disciplining officers accused of misconduct and said that it was opaque about its policies.

Between 2008-2013, 12 officers were fired for misconduct, 64 suspended and 76 received a letter of reprimand, the report found. The majority of offending officers were sent to coaching.

Most complaints against officers involved use of inappropriate language, "inappropriate attitudes," and violation of the "policy and procedure manual," according to the report. Nearly half the time, complaints against officers were dismissed, the data shows. In 28 percent of the misconduct cases, the officer was sent to coaching.

The study's author's also suggested that the department start collecting data on "history and location of citizen complaints to identify patterns and frequency of occurrence."

The full report is below:

OJP Diagnostic Analysis of Minneapolis Police Department by Libor Jany

Yonis sentenced with an eye toward job prospects

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 23, 2015 - 12:42 PM

Choked up but still professing innocence, former Minneapolis public employee Hashim Yonis caught a break Friday when a judge sentenced him to a gross misdemeanor for stealing park rental fees.

Hennepin County District Judge Tanya M. Bransford departed from the felony charge under which Yonis was convicted in November to impose a gross misdemeanor sentence. She did so in recognition that Yonis, 27, a former park and school worker, is seeking a doctorate so he can become a principal.

Yonis was considered a rising star in Somali circles in Minneapolis until the charges, attracting praise from Mayor R.T.Rybak, President Barack Obama and Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson.

"I can’t remember another defendant I’ve had who was working on his doctorate while his case was pending,” Bransford said.  Attorney Ira Whitlock told Bransford that a felony record would thwart his client’s employability as a future school administrator.

Bransford sentenced Yonis to 365 days in the workhouse, but he’ll serve only 59 unless he violates his probation terms in the next two years. He will be able to leave the workhouse for work or school. She also ordered him to pay $480 in restitution to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

She initially moved to order Yonis not to contact park commissioners during his probation, but later withdrew that after Whitlock raised questions about the breadth of the order.

Yonis was accused of taking more than $5,000 in funds collected for rental of a soccer field at Currie Park in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood after Somali residents complained that they couldn’t access the field on weekends. But a jury found he’d taken less than $1,000, an amount that still qualified as a felony because it involved government funds.

Yonis was unable to speak for about 15 seconds when he stood to address Bransford before the sentencing.  “I have already walked to the gate of hell the last four months.  It’s very difficult for me to stand here.  I feel I must be dreaming,” he said. “I continue to say I am innocent.”

Yonis continued to maintain that he was victimized by a political conspiracy involving other park commissioners because he was dismissed after he filed to run for a Park Board seat. However, the investigation of allegations against him began more than a month before he filed.

Bransford made a point of reading from one unidentified juror’s post-trial evaluation that “I was repelled by the conspiracy theory.  It undermined his credibility.”

Yonis, who is married with two children, lives in north Minneapolis. He worked for the park system until it fired him. He appealed and later agreed to resign. The school district also dismissed him as a probationary employee from a post at South High School.

Among the character witnesses for Yonis was Mohamud Noor, a school board member who earlier withheld comment on the charges against Yonis because he said he’d be involved in the personnel matter. He praised Yonis for integrity.  But prosecutor Susan Crumb said Yonis “exudes an air of entitlement.”

Whitlock said he is considering an appeal of the conviction on multiple grounds after Bransford denied his motion for a new trial.

'Hands up, don't shoot' video features mayor, chief

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: January 21, 2015 - 4:20 PM

A video showing Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janee Harteau joining a group of children in making the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture is making the rounds on social media.

The clip comes from an Oct. 8 community forum at Macedonia Baptist church, the first of three public meetings the mayor and the chief held to listen to comments and field questions about police-community relations.

It shows Hodges and Harteau dancing with a group of children from the We Win Institute, a youth-focused nonprofit group. At the end of the impromptu performance, the young performers put their hands up in the air, shouting: "hands up, don't shoot." The mayor and the chief also raise their arms.

The chant and gesture has played a prominent role in recent protests that followed two grand juries' decisions not to indict police officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner, in New York City. The community forum was held after both men had died, but before either of those decisions.

The mayor's spokeswoman, Kate Brickman, confirmed that the video was from the Oct. 8 event. Speaking on behalf of Hodges and Harteau, she said the children opened the program with a performance and then "spontaneously pulled the mayor and chief up to dance with them," adding that nearly 100 members of the public and several local media representatives were at the event. 

Officials declined to comment further.

Hodges has said she wants to root out problems in the department among officers who "abuse the trust that is afforded to them," but has also said she supports the city's police force and intends to work to build a stronger relationship with all of its members. 

The mayor tangled with police union president John Delmonico in November. The union head questioned the mayor's loyalty to police after a controversy erupted over a photo of Hodges posing with an election canvasser became the subject of a KSTP-TV news story. The two have since met and said they've moved beyond the "pointergate" debate and are working together. 

Council approves Lake-Knox settlement

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: January 16, 2015 - 12:38 PM

A settlement that's aimed at ending the pumping of groundwater into the Chain of Lakes from a luxury apartment building in Uptown won City Council approval Friday.

The consent agreement sets a March 31 deadline for Lake and Knox LLC to end discharge from 1800 W. Lake St., a 57-unit building. It is required to fill the lower of its two basement parking levels by then so that pumps can be shut off. The owners plan to offer valet parking for tenants until that lost parking can be replaced on an adjacent lot.

Area Council Member Lisa Goodman said the settlement's chief environmental contribution is ending the flow of an estimated 75 pounds annually of algae-feeding phosphorus borne by pumped groundwater into the lake. But she said it sends a signal to developers that ignoring city orders to halt such pumping won't be tolerated.

“I don’t think anyone else would be stupid enough to take this route,” Goodman said. The deal is expected to win Hennepin County District Court approval.

The city and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources already have issued permits that allow the pumping to continue legally during the basement work. Lake and Knox also is required to apply to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and its mortgage holder for permission to proceed.

If that approval doesn't come by Monday, when construction is scheduled to start, the owners get up to a two-week extension, but the March 31 deadline doesn't change.

If Lake and Knox misses that deadline, it faces a $5,000 daily penalty while it keeps pumping. But that penalty is cut to $1,000 daily if it's because HUD and its lender didn't act in time.

The agreement levies a total of $205,710 in penalties against Lake and Knox, with another estimated $78,000 to come. That represents city costs for extending piping onto Lake Calhoun to minimize unsafe ice in the lagoon between Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, the extra cost of cleaning a sewer grit-collecting chamber, and a fee for using city sewers. The Park Board separately is claiming about $32,000 for its costs.

Lake and Knox LLC consists of developers Nick Walton and Daniel Oberpriller, along with other unnamed investors. It still has financial claims pending against engineering firms that provided soil and engineering studies for the project.

The issue began when the city and state approved temporary permits for pumping away groundwater during construction, and grew into a public controversy when that continued after the project was finished to keep the lower garage from flooding. That led the city to take the rare step of filing its lawsuit in December, 2013..

(Above: A pipe, later extended farther, carried pumped groundwater from the apartment building onto the lagoon.)

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