Linea Palmisano isn’t known for fiery statements from the podium or calling for the firing of public officials.
Then a police officer shot and killed a woman in her ward in southwest Minneapolis, and Palmisano, the unfailingly polite first-term City Council member, demanded to speak at the end of the next council meeting.
“I am moving beyond sadness and I am angry,” she said. “I will be pushing for fundamental changes in our police department from top to bottom, and I ask you as my colleagues to join in these efforts.”
A few hours later, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau resigned.
Justine Ruszczyk Damond’s death has thrust Palmisano, 40, into the spotlight and forced her to confront an indignant southwest Minneapolis constituency, making her more visible — and scrutinized — than ever as she runs for re-election. The tragedy has sharpened calls for some of the police reforms Palmisano has been working on and will test her resolve.
Her speech at the council meeting was a catalyst for Harteau’s ouster, and she floated the idea that the City Council should wrest control of the Police Department from the mayor. She has publicly withheld her support for the appointment of Medaria Arradondo as chief, and last week she hosted a nervy community meeting to field questions about police reform from residents of southwest Minneapolis.
“There’s a lot of anger and frustration,” she said. “Their sense of safety has been rocked by this.”
A native of Chicago who moved to the Twin Cities to work for IBM and then UnitedHealth, Palmisano was elected to the City Council in 2013.
She’s hardly been a household name, even in the 13th Ward she represents. Until last month she was best known for declaring a moratorium on teardowns in her first few weeks in office.
“When you say her name that’s the only association I have,” said Kaye Monroe, who’s lived in Linden Hills since 1986.
But Palmisano has quietly developed a reputation at City Hall for deliberate, thoughtful action, and picking her battles.
“Some people speak with more authority than others,” Council President Barb Johnson said. “She’s very bright, she represents a significant part of the city’s voting base. She’s a detailed person, so she pays attention, [she’s] very careful about what she does. Does her homework.”
Palmisano is running a low-key re-election campaign after cruising to the DFL endorsement in the spring and had settled into a quiet summer when she learned of Damond’s death via voice mail the morning after the shooting. Damond had called 911 to report a possible sexual assault and was shot by officer Mohamed Noor in the alley near her house.
It was the first homicide in Palmisano’s ward since she was elected. Later that day she drove to the scene, ducking past TV cameras, seeking out neighbors she knew.
In the weeks since, she’s become the most vocal holdout on the council when it comes to supporting Mayor Betsy Hodges’ nomination of Arradondo. She wanted specifics on Arradondo’s vision and his plans for de-escalation and officer training. She spent three hours with him on Friday and said she’ll wait until after the Aug. 9 public hearing to decide whether to back him.
“I know he’s a great person, and I know he’s a good communicator,” Palmisano said. “But I need to make sure that he’s willing to be out in public making sometimes hard decisions and willing to go against the head of the police union publicly, and I need to know that he’s the right person to do that before he gets my support.”
Palmisano isn’t new to the battle for police transparency and accountability.
She testified at the Legislature on body cameras — asking for local control in Minneapolis, helping the Police Conduct Oversight Commission gather feedback for its recommendations to the city (key parts of which were ignored), and arguing that more of the footage should be public.
“That’s not the way it went,” Palmisano said. “It’s going to be largely reviewed internally, used for coaching and used for auditing whether the cameras are on when they’re supposed to be on.”
She floated the idea in 2016 of an Office of Independent Monitor for the police department, bringing the Police Conduct Oversight Commission into the city’s Audit Department to give the commission more access to police data. The idea was rejected by the mayor’s office, chief and other council members, she said.
So she worked instead on “elevating the voice” of the Office of Police Conduct Review, which she says has done a lot to bring transparency to civilian oversight of police.
“It wasn’t hard to step up during this challenging time because I’ve been working on these kinds of things throughout my first term,” she said.
But none of that work prevented Damond’s death, and as the representative of a politically powerful part of the city simmering with resentment, Palmisano faces a new level of scrutiny.
At the listening session she hosted at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church, several people said they won’t call 911 anymore, and the impatient crowd of 160 had dozens of questions: Why was a search warrant issued for Damond’s house? Why do so few complaints against police officers result in discipline? Is the police union too powerful?
Bethany Bradley attended the meeting and said she was frustrated by it. She didn’t think listening to neighbors was the first priority. She said too much time was wasted by panelist introductions and she thought Palmisano wasn’t prepared for the depth of resident questions.
“I can definitely acknowledge that she is making an effort and I am appreciative of that,” Bradley said. “I would like her and Mayor Hodges to stop saying what they are doing and start asking what they can be doing.”
Best police training?
The most striking question that night came from a woman who lives on Damond’s block and declined to identify herself: If Minneapolis has the best police training program in the country — as city officials repeatedly say — then why did a relatively new cop, Noor, shoot an unarmed woman who had called for help?
“This is the guy that should be showing us that this is working — we’re doing this new stuff, and it’s working!” the woman said. “And this is what happened: He immediately shot the first woman he saw when he was called to a rape.”
Palmisano hesitated, holding a microphone, then spoke.
“That’s the question that I sit with every day,” she said. “And I don’t have an answer for it.”