After Minneapolis police allowed a documentary crew to follow officers behind the scenes, Hennepin County’s top public defender wants to know whether the footage may contain evidence that should have been disclosed in her clients’ criminal cases.
On Wednesday, a Minneapolis City Council committee plans to approve an access agreement for a production company called Blue Pictures, LLC. The arrangement will apply retroactively to April 2017, however, and police say the filming is all but complete.
Tentatively titled “Women in Blue,” the documentary will focus on female officers, including the resignation of former Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau in the aftermath of officer Mohamed Noor fatally shooting Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Noor is currently facing murder charges.
The contract details the legal access arrangement between the filmmakers and Police Department, including giving police the right to review a raw cut of the documentary before it’s released.
After learning of the access agreement, Mary Moriarty, the Hennepin County’s chief public defender, wrote a letter to Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal expressing concerns over the arrangement and asking for the names of her office’s clients who have been filmed. Nearly three weeks later, as the contract moves through the council, she has yet to find answers, she said.
Moriarty said she doesn’t know what’s in the raw footage but worries there may be evidence related to cases handled by her office that police would be legally obligated to produce.
“If MPD records an investigation, they have to hand it over,” Moriarty said. “So if they’re going to give a production company inside access, that has to be handed over. And on a policy level, why would Minneapolis allow MPD to contract away their constitutional obligations? It’s just bad policy.”
Police spokesman John Elder said members of the Police Department and City Attorney’s Office have talked to the filmmakers. He said they understand the footage contains no evidence that would need to be turned over.
“There’s nothing that was taped that would lend itself to need to be shared in discovery,” Elder said.
Moriarty questioned how the city could be so sure.
“That means that they’re relying on the filmmakers’ understanding of what Minnesota criminal law requires,” she said.
The police entered into an agreement a few years ago with a production company for A&E’s true-crime show “The First 48,” which chronicles criminal investigations from the officers’ point of view. In that case, the public defender’s office requested footage from police related to a murder trial.
Police said it had no footage — the contract turned all ownership over to the producers. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office joined the defense in requesting the footage from the production company, which refused to provide it, leading to a lengthy legal battle that delayed the trial.
City Council Member Steve Fletcher, vice chairman of the public safety committee, said he hasn’t seen the footage from “Women in Blue.” It’s “conceivable” that filmmakers captured scenes related to criminal cases, he said, but that’s not the focus of the film. Fletcher said he believes this contract addresses the issues raised in “The First 48” cases by including a clause clarifying that producers “must respond” to subpoenas.
“It is not my impression that it disadvantages [Moriarty’s] clients,” Fletcher said. “In discovery either side can request that footage. … If it became material to the case they would have access to it.”
Beth Levison, one of the filmmakers, said in an e-mail that she was not available for an interview Tuesday. “We’re proud of the project and its unprecedented focus on women officers,” she said in the e-mail. “We’re looking forward to the vote [Wednesday].”
Elder couldn’t comment on why the agreement was made under the previous chief but said it was most likely a means of promoting the department to female recruits. He also did not know why the council was approving the contract now — after the documentary was filmed.
The City Council’s Public Safety & Emergency Management Committee will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday to vote on the contract.