American Indian Movement activist Clyde Bellecourt spent a few hours early Christmas Eve in the Hennepin County jail after what he claims was an improper arrest following a protest in downtown Minneapolis.
Bellecourt was arrested in the Crystal Court of the IDS Center on Nicollet Mall. The 76-year-old activist said he was drinking coffee after attending a protest in solidarity with Idle No More, a tribal group at odds with the Canadian government.
About 80 people attended the event, according to police and Bellecourt, whose longtime lawyer, Larry Leventhal, got him released from jail early in the evening without posting bail, pending a decision on whether to file charges.
The police report indicates Bellecourt was picked up at 12:05 p.m. on allegations of disorderly conduct and trespassing. IDS security workers told police they had given numerous warnings to Bellecourt and others to leave the "private property" or face arrest. Bellecourt sat down and refused to leave. When officers attempted to escort him outside, he went limp on the floor. Police called an ambulance because of his age and medical conditions, the report said.
But Leventhal said the Crystal Court is a public area. "He had a right to be there," Leventhal said of his client, adding that neither Bellecourt nor other protesters were disrupting or hindering normal business. "He was singled out. It was more about who he is rather than what he was doing," the lawyer said
Minneapolis police and Leventhal say Bellecourt was the only one arrested. Bellecourt was among the founders in 1969 of the Minneapolis-based American Indian Movement (AIM) and is a veteran of protests and arrests.
Police spokesman Sgt. Stephen McCarty said of the incident: "Police asked him to leave and everybody left except him."
Bellecourt said he was sitting and waiting for his son to finish shopping and couldn't move after police took away a cane that he uses because of a bad knee and recent hip replacement surgery.
Cellphone video posted online shows a quiet and calm Bellecourt, who says he weighs 280 pounds, being lifted by officers onto a gurney, then wheeled out of the building.
Bellecourt, who also has diabetes and recently had two coronary stents implanted, said he was denied access to insulin while in jail. Asked if he was injured in the arrest, he said officers "almost tore my hand off" when they pulled on him while handcuffed.
He said police approached him at the IDS building and asked him to shut down the protest, but Bellecourt said Tuesday he told an officer that he wasn't in charge and added, "I'm not colonized yet and I don't do your work for you."
Bellecourt said the officer persisted and said, "You're the leader, you're the chief," as protesters sang and danced in the Crystal Court.
As for a potential lawsuit, Leventhal was equivocal. "The grounds are there. There was no probable cause" to arrest him, Leventhal said. He called the arrest the "renewal of an old practice" of harassing Bellecourt.
The activist said the guards at the jail teased him about being "homesick" because he hadn't been there in a while.
McCarty, however, said if Bellecourt feels he was falsely arrested, he can ask for an internal police or outside civilian review of the incident.
The event echoed protests in Canada over what the tribes view as that government's abrogation of treaty rights. Bellecourt said he was in "total solidarity" with the Canadian Indians.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson