A YouTube video of a man’s arrest in a St. Paul skyway has sparked discussion of private property boundaries in what’s basically an elevated sidewalk.
In the latest twist on a story that has drawn national attention, the St. Paul city attorney says there’s no evidence that a man arrested and subdued with a Taser by St. Paul police last winter was outside the public area of a downtown skyway.
A YouTube video posted last week of Chris Lollie being confronted in the skyway by police has sparked renewed debate about public use of the downtown pedestrian routes and how the law should be enforced.
Lollie said he was waiting for his children to arrive at preschool Jan. 31 when a security guard tried to kick him out of the First National Bank lounge along the skyway route. Guards called police, who used a Taser on Lollie and arrested him.
The security guards said they told Lollie that the chairs were reserved for tenants and were not a public waiting area. But St. Paul City Attorney Sara Grewing confirmed Thursday that charges against Lollie were dropped because there was no evidence he was on private property.
“In general, the skyway system in St. Paul is made up of a series of public easements connecting pedestrian bridges through buildings. Essentially it is similar to a sidewalk,” Grewing said in an e-mail.
“So without signs or something else indicating otherwise, the prosecutor wouldn’t be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Lollie was unlawfully on private property.”
Surveillance footage of Lollie’s arrest and his interaction with security personnel is expected to be released by St. Paul police in the coming days, police spokesman Howie Padilla said Thursday.
Lollie, 28, is black. At least two of the arresting officers shown in the video are white. A third officer is not shown in the video.
Richard Rossi, senior property manager of the First National Bank building, issued a statement for the first time Thursday, saying that there was “zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind” at First National.
“Our first priority is to ensure the safety and security of all tenants and guests, and we will fully cooperate with any and all inquiries from the appropriate authorities,” he added.
Jim Ivey, a downtown resident who chairs the district council’s skyway committee, said the skyway system had a number of places with seating similar to that at the First National Bank and that the issue of private vs. public space comes up a lot.
One member of the skyway committee, which makes policy recommendations to the city, was told by a security guard to get up and move while sitting along the skyway in another building, Ivey said.
“I think the problem is there’s no clear policy about it.” he said. “That’s when you get into this subjective decisionmaking.”
City Council Member Dave Thune, whose ward includes downtown, said that Mayor Chris Coleman did the right thing by asking the city’s Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission to look at the officers’ handling of Lollie’s arrest.
“To be banned from the skyway, there’d have to be some pretty major behavior issues. So anyway I think the best thing is to have it really examined,” Thune said.
On the other hand, walking in the skyway system is different from walking down the street, said Joe Spartz, president of the Greater St. Paul Building Owners and Managers Association. “People can’t think of it as just a public sidewalk because again you’re inside the building itself,” he said.
Lucas Rezac, an attorney who represented Lollie when he was charged in the incident, said it was clear from the start that he had not broken any laws. “I’m glad that it’s brought to the public eye,” he said.
Rezac said he had a witness statement showing that people regularly eat lunch in the First National Bank skyway lounge and are not asked to leave. While an enclosed space on the first floor is clearly marked for employees only, he said, the skyway level lounge has no such signage or partitions.