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Payouts to victims of police misconduct in Minneapolis dropped to $814,093 last year, well below the $4.2 million paid out in 2011, city records show.
While payouts plummeted, the City Council still voted to settle 17 lawsuits and claims of egregious police misconduct, including one that involved a police videotape that showed officers punching and kicking a suspect and another in which a police raid left a 19-year-old man bloodied and unconscious.
The average payout in a misconduct case totaled $47,888. The city prevailed in nine lawsuits against the police in 2012.
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said in an e-mail that her office is not afraid to go to trial when appropriate. "We are pleased with this year's results, but do not take anything for granted and will continue to work hard on prevention and to provide successful, cost-efficient legal services for the city," she said.
Newly sworn-in Police Chief Janeé Harteau was hesitant Friday to draw conclusions about the smaller total payout this year, noting that settlements deal with cases that were initiated before 2012. Still, she said she has conducted meetings in all five precincts to discuss the do's and don'ts of searches and seizures, joined by a senior member of her staff and an assistant city attorney. "If it hasn't had an impact, it will," Harteau said.
Since 2006, the city has paid out $14 million to settle allegations in 116 cases of misconduct, including wrongful deaths, injuries, brutal arrests and other misbehavior by police, records show. Critics of police practices say they haven't seen a marked change in police behavior that would explain the lower number last year.
Austen Zuege, a member of the civilian oversight board that was dismantled last year, said Friday, "I can't say, citywide, that I have noticed a whole lot of changes" in police policy or behavior.
He said some police precincts did a better job than others in responding to allegations of misconduct. The Civilian Review Authority has been replaced by the Office of Police Conduct Review, which will use police and civilians to investigate allegations of police misconduct.
Other major cases involving allegations of police conduct are still to be resolved, including a federal lawsuit filed by lawyer Robert Bennett over the 2010 death of David Smith, a 28-year-old mentally ill man. Smith died while being restrained by officers at the YMCA in downtown Minneapolis. The case could go to trial later this year or next, Bennett said.
Bennett said he had taken depositions of Minneapolis police officials throughout 2012 "and have not noticed any appreciable change in the way business is conducted." He said that settlement totals in any calendar year "don't indicate anything to me," in part because they usually reflect cases that have been in the pipeline for years.
The biggest city payout in 2012, $392,500, went to Anne Rasmusson and attorneys who sued the city over officers who looked up information about her on file with state Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS).
"The fact that Minneapolis' payout to me was the largest last year is unfortunate," Rasmusson said in an e-mail, "but a sign that the city is taking enforcement of the DVS system seriously."
The second-largest payout last year was $85,000 to Mauricio McKinney and his attorneys. The lawsuit alleged that McKinney, who was 19 at the time, was in a duplex at 2109 Chicago Av. S. on Sept. 13, 2011, when police, without a search warrant, came in looking for someone with a gun.
One officer knocked McKinney to the floor and kicked him in the torso and face, five to seven times, until he was unconscious. He required seven stitches to the cheek and two to the mouth. No one was charged with any crime in connection with the raid, the suit said.
"It was a clear case of an unreasonable search as well as excessive force," said Ryan Vettleson, McKinney's attorney.
Another large payout, $74,414, went to settle a lawsuit over an alleged police assault in May 2011 of Kenya Montgomery, now 26, who received $40,000 with his attorneys getting the rest.
According to the suit, police were investigating a report of gunfire in the area of 33rd and Dupont Avenues N. when they chased Montgomery.
A video taken from a police squad car showed Montgomery cornered by officers, raising his hands and appearing to show no resistance. The video showed officers surrounding Montgomery, forcing him to the ground, punching and kicking him. He suffered bruises around the left side of his face and torso, but no permanent injury, said Andrew Noel, his attorney.
"It was a clear, unequivocal surrender and rather than take him into custody and let the courts deal with the punishment, they inflicted the punishment on their own," Noel said.
Montgomery pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor of possessing a pistol without a permit, was given credit for two days spent in jail and sentenced to probation.
The city paid $55,000 to Joseph Elliot, now 24, who was on his way home from work on July 23, 2009, when he got off a bus in north Minneapolis and noticed a disturbance in the area. Elliot alleged in a lawsuit filed by attorney Frederick Goetz that an officer who wanted to look in his bag pulled his right hand behind his back and broke his thumb.
Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder said he had no individual comment on the cases. "Each case is always evaluated on its particular facts and circumstances, and settlements are made in the best interest of the city's taxpayers and the risks to the taxpayers," he said.
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