Minneapolis police officer with two costly lawsuits has 19 complaints

  • Article by: MATT MCKINNEY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2014 - 1:07 PM

Mpls. Police Department, with 800 officers, had 943 complaints filed against it last year.

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Michael Griffin pinned on his brand-new police badge in 2007. Since then, he has had at least one complaint filed against him each year.

Photo: File photo by JEFF WHEELER • jwheeler@startribune.com,

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A Minneapolis police officer whose two excessive force lawsuits have cost the city $410,000 has had 19 complaints filed against him since he started in 2007, six of them last year.

All but three of the complaints against officer Michael Griffin, a patrol officer on the North Side, have been closed with no discipline; three cases are still under investigation. The city did not release details of any of the closed cases, which is standard procedure in cases that do not result in discipline.

Griffin, a winner of the department’s medal of valor for his response to the 2012 Accent Signage killings, had two complaints in 2007, his first year with the department, and at least one complaint every year since.

The six complaints against him last year were among the 943 complaints against approximately 800 sworn officers, according to the city.

Neither the internal affairs (I.A.) process nor lawsuits fully get to the truth of what happened in misconduct cases, said Blong Yang, the chair of the City Council’s Public Safety committee and an attorney. And many people with complaints skip that process altogether, he said, instead filing a lawsuit, which can result in financial compensation.

“I think the I.A. process is a process that’s really skewed toward officer self-reporting,” he said, calling the process frustrating. “It’s usually done before the trial even commences. That way you’re not even getting full facts for the I.A. process that could lead to discipline.”

Anyone can file a complaint with internal affairs or the Office of Police Conduct Review, including citizens who feel they’ve been mistreated or police officers who are duty-bound by the department’s code of conduct to report a fellow officer’s misconduct. The complaints range from an officer’s use of inappropriate language to excessive force to squad car operation.

Asked about Griffin’s record, Police Chief Janeé Harteau didn’t address his case directly, saying the department takes every interaction with the public seriously.

“We continuously review the reports from citizens about their contacts with our staff, both positive and negative. We continue to address complaints against officers with Internal Affairs and the Office of Police Conduct Review through the Civil Rights Office,” the statement said.

She pointed to a sharp reduction in complaints since 2011; the city’s Results Minneapolis report says complaints dropped from 1,853 that year to 934 last year.

Police expert Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum said it’s difficult to know what to make of the officer’s history, since details are not public.

He said it’s important for departments to develop an early warning system to track an officer’s performance.

“This is an issue for departments as they look at their I.A. complaints and they have some officers who have multiple complaints. … Getting behind what’s causing that is very important,” Wexler said.

The complaints against Griffin were made to the Internal Affairs unit of the Police Department, or through the citizen process that was formerly known as the Civilian Police Review Authority and now goes by the Office of Police Conduct Review.

Costly fights detailed in suits

Nearly all of the public details that have emerged about Griffin and excessive force were delivered in two lawsuits filed in 2010 and 2011.

In both of the excessive force complaints, Griffin was accused of punching or kicking people while he was off-duty at downtown bars.

In March, U.S. District Judge David Doty ordered the city to pay $145,653 in attorney’s fees for the lawsuit brought by Jeremy Axel, an IT salesman from St. Louis Park who was knocked unconscious by Griffin on Nov. 4, 2011. In December, a federal jury awarded Axel $125,000 in his excessive-force claim against the officer.

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