For eight years in the 1980s, Chief Tony Bouza presided over the Minneapolis Police Department, a quotable, in-your-face police official with strong opinions who was brought here as a reformer by Mayor Don Fraser.
A former assistant chief in the New York Police Department, Bouza frequently butted heads with members of the Minneapolis force.
Since his retirement he has become even more irascible. For most of the past quarter century, he has been a witness for the defense across the country, testifying in lawsuits, some of them major cases, on behalf of people who have alleged wrongdoing by police officers.
Bouza, now in his 80s and still living in Minneapolis, has published a new book entitled “Expert Witness: Breaking the Policemen’s Blue Code of Silence,” which tells story after story of alleged deceit, misconduct and corruption by police.
A prolific writer of nine previous books, he said in an interview that his new tome is “my most important book,” describing it as “my continuing and futile attempt to reform the police.”
He calls police departments “secret institutions very much like the Vatican” who have “a great time exercising power.” He says that while departments do a lot of good things, they are institutionally assigned “to control the underclass,” most vividly reflected in their relationship to blacks, who he says are targets of stop-and-frisk and other abuses.
He said in most of the cases where he testified, it was on behalf of abused blacks “who screwed up their courage and sued.”
In an epilogue, Bouza writes that he owes an apology to most cops because 98 percent of them are doing — or trying to do — their job, work ranging from mediocre to heroic and brilliant.
“But then there are the 2-percenters,” he writes. “I could actually prepare a list of these misfits in every agency I have worked. The thumpers, grafters, malingerers, psychos, alcoholics, women beaters and bullies are the objects of my reform efforts.”
He is, say most attorneys who sue police, a rare bird, since there are hardly any big city police chiefs who have so consistently testified against police.
Fred Goetz, a Minneapolis attorney, says he can count on one hand “the individuals with Mr. Bouza’s level of experience who objectively review cases of alleged police misconduct and call it as they see it. ...
“Chief Bouza is unique in that he only does cases he believes in. He is not a hired gun. If he does not believe in a case, if he does not believe there is a serious civil rights violation, he won’t take it.”
Bouza can say things that will get him in hot water. During his tenure as Minneapolis chief, he was ridiculed for saying there was no gang problem in the city, even as gangs began to materialize — a comment he later said was a mistake.
Still, Bouza has intense admirers. “With all due respect to Minneapolis, he should have ended up heading the police departments of one of the giant cities, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, to show what he could do,” says Thomas Repetto, former president of the Citizens Crime Commission in New York City. “I like to say he is the greatest police commissioner New York City never had.”
Among the cases Bouza worked on was a 2003 rally in Chicago against U.S. intervention in Iraq, which led to 543 arrests. Bouza calls it a “a police-inspired debacle.” The city of Chicago agreed to pay $6.2 million in a settlement.
Bouza wrote that “the most important case I worked on” involved the indictment of two “tree-huggers,” environmental activists who were campaigning against the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest. Bouza testified after they were arrested in 1990 on eco-terrorism charges, which Bouza said was wrongheaded. They won $2.9 million from a jury.
You might think Bouza is a softy who cuddles up to protesters — after all, he became a national story in the 1980s when his wife, Erica Bouza, was arrested several times by Bouza’s own police force when she participated in peaceful civil disobedience demonstrations against Honeywell and its military contracts. But Bouza’s values are not simplistic and can be rather startling.
“I am an unapologetic supporter of the use of police violence, even lethal force,” he writes in a preface, “but it has to be guided by the law, the standards of reasonableness and the U.S. Constitution.
“I have presided over clubbings, shootings, gassings and other assaults by the police. I see violence as a key weapon in the police arsenal and trained cops in the full range of possibilities available to us.
“My only caveat is that the use of force has to be legally justified, measured and appropriate, and that the weapons have to be in conformance with the law.”
SWAT officer is a big winner
A Minneapolis police SWAT officer has won $10,000 for himself and $100,000 of equipment for the Minneapolis Police Department’s SWAT unit, beating 13 other SWAT officers in a televised competition on the Outdoor Channel cable television network.
Tony Caspers, a 24-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department, was declared the winner last week of a reality television series called ETU, which stands for Elite Tactical Unit. The episodes will re-air on the Outdoor Channel next month.
Caspers, 45, of Blaine, and the other officers from around the United States battled drug kingpins and returned pretend gunfire in a series of make-believe scenarios that included raiding houses and rescuing hostages. The officers used laser guns rather than live ammunition. The episodes were filmed in Arkansas, Missouri and New Hampshire.
Caspers was a last-minute replacement in the competition. In the final, he competed against a SWAT officer from Dallas. Mitch Petrie, an assistant producer, said he hosted a large party recently at a New Hope firearm training facility, Sealed Mindset, where Casper’s friends, family, other officers and sponsors watched.