Looks like the Minneapolis police chief will be able to continue her vacation after all.
It took Chief Janeé Harteau nearly five days to respond to the shooting of Justine Damond by officer Mohamed Noor. It took Mayor Betsy Hodges and the City Council a matter of hours Friday to decide Harteau was no longer the right person to lead the police force.
The idea that Harteau could lose her job had been gaining steam in City Hall over the past week, during which time the chief posted photos of herself on Facebook from Telluride, Colo. As her department came under fire, again, because one of Harteau’s officers shot an unarmed woman, Harteau’s social media showed her riding a gondola up a mountain.
“It’s not just an isolated circumstance,” said Linea Palmisano, the council member from the ward where Damond was killed. “It’s cumulative.”
Harteau resigned Friday but was about to be fired, sources said.
Palmisano read me several e-mails from constituents angry about Harteau’s lack of urgency over the shooting and her handling of the department in general. Palmisano was one of several council members Friday to call for more council control over police, and to call for Harteau’s resignation. The chief’s already rocky relationship with Hodges obviously didn’t help.
Harteau certainly doesn’t own all the crises that have tarnished the police force the past few years, but political expediency made her departure inevitable.
For four days, city leaders offered sympathies to the victim’s family and friends, while others attended vigils and helped the Damonds with plans for a memorial service. Reporters who tried to find out where Harteau was were met with silence, or vague answers that she was on previously booked “personal time” and “out of state.”
No one used that word.
An illness in the family? We could understand that.
Rumors spread that the chief was in Europe. Then Colorado, with maybe a plan to leave for Europe after that. In her place, Medaria Arradondo stood with Hodges to answer questions from the media, the unspoken ghost of Harteau hovering in the air.
She was the chief of whom we did not speak.
Harteau returned to Minnesota, then held a news conference Thursday evening. She used uncharacteristic, perhaps unprecedented, language in talking about the shooting, saying “Based on the publicly released information from the BCA, this should not have happened.”
It was a dramatic appearance. Yet several Australian reporters expressed disbelief that the chief was missing in action and did not contact Damond’s family in Australia during that time. Had this happened in their country — which it wouldn’t — their commissioner of police would come home immediately, they said.
Harteau again said she was in a remote location, backpacking.
Apparently an assistant for the chief sent an e-mail to City Council members on Monday, July 17 — more than a day after the shooting — advising them Harteau was “out of state and out of the country for a personal vacation,” to return Aug. 1.
There it was, the V word.
Before Harteau surfaced, I checked events scheduled in Denver last weekend to look for clues of what might have been keeping her away. There was this: the “Where’s Waldo Tennyson Street Scavenger Hunt.” I’m not making this up.
Where’s Waldo? Where was Chief Harteau?
Telluride, it turned out. Then, she says, backpacking.
On Monday, she posted a message on her work Twitter account acknowledging the “pain and frustration” of Damond’s “tragic death” and offered condolences to the family.
I get it. Vacations are important. Harteau works long, grueling hours and is on call around the clock. But she runs the police department of a major city, one that has a growing reputation for questionable police behavior, and one of her employees had just shot an innocent woman. I can think of few other scenarios that would scream more than this for the chief of police to be present as soon as possible.
Before Harteau’s resignation, Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Federation, was unequivocal about the chief’s absence: It was wrong.
“I texted her asking, ‘Who is the point of contact handling this situation?’ ” Kroll said. “She didn’t even reply to the text, which is unusual. I know that [she was taking] personal time, but she’s the chief.”
“After the John Delmonico debacle, is there any doubt who is running the police department?” Kroll asked, referring to Hodges’ decision to overrule Harteau in the chief’s appointment of Delmonico to run the Fourth Precinct. “Everybody knows it isn’t Janeé running the police department, it’s Betsy.”
On Friday, before Harteau resigned, some council members talked of giving the council more police oversight.
“I respect the chief, I respect the mayor,” said Jacob Frey, who is challenging Hodges in the 2017 race for mayor. “But when there’s a lack of confidence that people can call 911 without getting shot themselves, it’s time for a change.”
Harteau wouldn’t be the first ranking official to lose a job — at least partly — over a vacation.
Sonia Pitt, the director of homeland security for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, was at a conference in Boston when the I-35W bridge fell 10 years ago. Rather than return home, Pitt went to Washington, D.C., for eight days. She was later fired for being absent at a crucial time. Pitt’s absence was the final nail in the coffin of Carol Molnau, who subsequently lost her job as commissioner of the state’s transportation department.
I like Harteau. I’m sure she did her best to lead the force. In these times, it wasn’t enough. I sincerely hope she enjoys her next trip. I just wouldn’t recommend Australia right now.
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin