Officers in the Metro Gang Strike Force shredded documents at its headquarters late Wednesday night, hours after the state Commissioner of Public Safety announced plans for an internal investigation after a government audit found that the Strike Force couldn't account for $18,000 in seized cash and at least 13 vehicles.
A written account by the Strike Force's commander said a dumpster behind the Strike Force's offices in New Brighton and two garbage cans contained many shredded documents. Paper residue from shredding was found in the office and garage.
Details of the destruction were in an e-mail sent Thursday by Strike Force commander Chris Omodt to members of an advisory board that oversees the Strike Force, which is a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement agency that targets gangs and drug dealers across the Twin Cities metro area.
The Star Tribune obtained the e-mail through a request to board members under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
The shredding appears to have been a major factor in Omodt's decision to immediately suspend operations of the Strike Force, pending a meeting of the advisory board next week. The original plan was to allow it to operate for another week.
Omodt also said someone apparently shut off a computer that records when someone enters the building with a security card. "My prior understanding is that this computer is not intended to be powered off," Omodt wrote to board members.
Asked about the e-mail Thursday night, Omodt said "The e-mail stands on its own."
Michael Campion, the Public Safety commissioner, announced Wednesday that he planned to name a former federal prosecutor and a retired FBI agent to conduct an inquiry into findings by the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor released earlier that day, and implement its recommendations.
Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles and Deputy Auditor Cecile Ferkel revealed a litany of problems at the Strike Force, including missing and misused funds and property that had been seized during investigations. In many cases, the seized money and property later were forfeited to the Strike Force by courts.
Manila (Bud) Shaver, chairman of the Strike Force advisory board, told the Legislative Audit Commission on Wednesday that major changes already were being instituted under the board's and Omodt's supervision.
Campion's original plan was to keep the Strike Force going until next week's meeting, then to suspend operations for several weeks while his team did its work, and to reactivate it in time to deal with gang problems that often proliferate during the summer. During the closure, officers would return to their agencies and continue to work on at least some investigations.
In Omodt's Wednesday message to board members, he began by saying he was "sorry for the late hour of the e-mail, but I felt it necessary to get this information out to you tonight."
He said he was informed Wednesday afternoon that a couple of Strike Force officers came to the agency's office and "removed what were described as files, work product, and were essentially packing up their desks."
Omodt wrote that one member commented that "he would not be back, or words to that effect." Omodt wrote that Shaver went to the offices in New Brighton and found that several more officers had come in after hours and started to remove property and belongings.
He wrote that Shaver asked them to stop, pending a meeting with the officers the following day.
According to the e-mail, Omodt later arrived at the office and learned that Strike Force officers had shredded files.
He wrote that he found "the dumpster behind the building contained many shredded documents," and that there was shredding debris in the office and garage areas and that two additional garbage cans were full of shredded documents.
He wrote that he also found two or three "shred bins" nearly full of documents, apparently intended for shredding.
Omodt, a captain in the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, became commander of the Strike Force in late January, after a preliminary audit by Campion's office discovered about $400,000 cash in a Strike Force safe. That audit was unable to account for the whereabouts of some money taken in seizures.
Omodt wrote in the e-mail that he had been assigned by the board to be in charge of both day-to-day operations and overseeing the legislative auditor's recommendations. But he said that based on the auditor's findings, "and some of the events from tonight," he was unable to do both.
"In light of the board meeting scheduled for next week to discuss an action plan, I made the decision to suspend day-to-day operations pending the board meeting," wrote Omodt. He said he discussed it with Shaver, who concurred.
Omodt concluded his comments by writing that he considered the Strike Force "an essential entity that has proven time and again its effectiveness in fighting gangs." But he said that suspending operations was necessary and that he appreciated the board's confidence in him.
In a separate e-mail to the board, Shaver wrote that "both the legislators, the commissioner [Campion] and, I suspect, the advisory board, believe we need to temporarily suspend all the activities/investigations we can and concentrate on correcting the identified deficiencies."
Shaver said time to do that was short, and "although the board cannot take official action on suspending operations until our special meeting on May 27th, the commander or chair can. Since this is the commander's operation, I advised him that I would support his decision."
He wrote that several officers told him that "they were cleaning out their desks to report back to their home agencies."
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382