'Police versus the police'

The investigation into the informant's claims about corrupt cops spanned more than a year. Did they have enough evidence to prosecute?

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Chief Tim Dolan denied allegations in the black officers’ discrimination lawsuit,recently settled,that departmental racism worsened under him. Dolan and Mayor R.T.Rybak, right, were outspoken about plans to transform the police via diversity.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune file

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For more than a year, Minneapolis cops and FBI agents monitored wiretaps around the clock. They dressed informants with hidden microphones and micro-cameras.

They trailed the squad car of a suspect Minneapolis cop with a global positioning satellite. They combed through reams of police phone records to see who was talking to whom. They pressured cops to turn on each other.

Investigators lived and breathed the public corruption probe. It was an enormous outlay of resources, a sign of how the thought of corrupt police violated a basic public trust.

Sgt. Grant Snyder, one of the investigators on the Violent Offenders Task Force (VOTF), believed his unit and the FBI had enough evidence to go after Lt. Lee Edwards, a commander in the Fourth Precinct, for felony bribery and misconduct of a public officer. Although they had not observed Edwards taking payments, they had listened as informant Taylor Trump got Edwards to share confidential Police Department records about a city-owned vehicle.

In the spring of 2008, Snyder later told internal affairs, he met with two assistant U.S. attorneys who had been assigned to the case since it began in early 2007 and FBI supervisor Sean Boylan.

They told him it was over. There would be no prosecutions other than a $200 case against patrol officer Mike Roberts for taking payments from Trump. ¶ How had the massive case disintegrated? ¶ Snyder blamed racial politics and believed political correctness had contaminated what had been an unbiased investigation. "This is not the case that they wanted. They wanted white officers,'' Snyder later told internal affairs, referring to his conversation with the prosecutors and the FBI. "They didn't think they'd be going after black officers, and it scares them and there's gonna be a lot of racial fallout from this.'' ¶ Federal authorities saw it differently. They believed they had been unable to build a case against Edwards because of the slip by Capt. Mike Martin when he had mentioned the probe within earshot of Edwards, inadvertently alerting him that he was being watched.

They believed they had come tantalizingly close to watching Trump, a local leader of the Gangster Disciples, get Edwards to accept a payoff. During interrogations, Trump had been so precise in describing the car wash west of downtown near Hwy. 55 where he claimed to have met Edwards to trade information and pay the officer. That precision convinced federal authorities that Trump could tempt Edwards again and it could all be caught on tape -- until Trump was mentioned in that meeting. But Edwards' attorney John Klassen said the lieutenant was simply plying a gang member for information as part of his job.

In the only official comment on the case from the U.S. attorney's office, Acting U.S. Attorney Frank Magill said: "We cannot comment on any pending criminal matter." But he added that "any suggestion that the USAO declines to pursue otherwise meritorious investigations or prosecutions because of racial considerations is simply false."

Ralph Boelter, special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis office, echoed that response. The FBI, he said, does not consider race in deciding what to investigate. "Any allegations to the contrary are untrue," he said.

Fallout for Edwards

Edwards would not emerge unscathed.

Police Chief Tim Dolan suspended him on April 18 in connection with the FBI's corruption investigation. It was three days before the city of Northfield was to announce its choice for police chief. Edwards, one of three finalists, believed the suspension destroyed his chance of getting the job. He imagined other Minneapolis police officers now viewed him as a pariah, a cop on the take.

Soon after Edwards was suspended, friends and family gathered at his suburban home for his son's 12th birthday. Edwards drifted away from the party and began walking -- and walking. After four hours, his worried wife found him in the prayer room of a neighborhood church.

Three months later, with no charges brought, Dolan was forced to reinstate Edwards under the Police Federation contract.

If federal officials had prosecuted Edwards, a trial would have made public the details of their investigation. But when a matter is handled by the Police Department's internal affairs unit, the public seldom learns much beyond a skeletal announcement of any discipline ultimately taken against an officer.

The day before Edwards' reinstatement, the department's own internal affairs investigation found that he had violated policy by associating with a gang member. His attorney Klassen said Edwards' only association with Trump was in talks initiated by the FBI. The wiretaps, he added, confirm that the flow of sensitive information was from Trump to Edwards, not vice versa.

The internal affairs investigation also found that Edwards could have endangered the life of an officer by giving Trump the license plate number of a city car allegedly used for undercover operations -- a finding Edwards detests and is appealing.

"We're confident we'll be able to show that at least some witnesses embellished or misrepresented facts to say that Lee Edwards placed an officer's life in jeopardy when in fact he never did and never would,'' said Andrew Muller, an attorney for Edwards.

Still looming was the racial discrimination lawsuit that Edwards and four other black officers had filed in December 2007.

Overhearing distrust

The lawsuit alleged a 20-year pattern of discrimination that the five officers said was tolerated by the department's command structure.

It alleged that Dolan "fired, demoted or transferred every African-American male officer who held the position of captain, inspector or higher rank.'' It alleged that institutional racism worsened under Dolan's leadership -- an allegation Dolan firmly denied. He and Mayor R.T. Rybak had been outspoken about their plan to transform the department, bringing diversity to reflect the face of Minneapolis.

The public corruption probe had exposed racial tensions that continue to haunt the department.

FBI agents had recorded Edwards opening up to Trump about just how much black officers distrust the department dominated by white commanders.

Edwards: "It is the police versus the police right now.''

Trump: "Ah, man, crazy.''

Edwards: "It's every man for himself. It's the brothers versus this one chief in a screwed-up city. Yeah, it's a trip.''

Trump: "So the chief of police is behind this you think? That's f----- up.''

Edwards: "Ah, man, it's bigger than the chief, bro.''

The probe and the lawsuit had pitted officer against officer, friend against friend. It had strained Edwards' friendship with a fellow black officer, Kelvin Pulphus, whom he had known since their days in college with Trump. Like Edwards, Pulphus had become an FBI target after Trump told authorities the officer was dirty.

Edwards expressed disdain on the FBI tape for Pulphus' dissociating himself from the discrimination lawsuit:

"KP came out of pocket to the white boys, and so some of the brothers are like, you know, f--- him. Oh, when we came out with this lawsuit you got Negroes and you got niggers (laughs), and then you got those real down-home Negroes that are like, you know, you're my brother, I'm gonna stand behind you. You know we got a whole bunch of Negro on the Police Department that are really afraid of the white people.'' Pulphus would not comment for this story. His attorney says his client has not broken any laws.

Epilogue

Instead of returning to his high-level post as an inspector, Edwards was placed in a backwater job: the office of professional standards, a post he told friends required patrolling a desk and a 5-by-7 piece of carpet. More recently, he was transferred to help command the training unit. In January, the Anoka County attorney's office, which had been asked to handle the Edwards case, declined to bring charges, saying information he gave Trump was "innocuous at best."

But in February, Dolan suspended Edwards without pay for 15 days because of the internal affairs findings that Edwards could have put the lives of officers at risk. Edwards and his family are devastated that he was targeted by his own department on the "wholly unreliable" word of an informant trying to save himself from prison, said Klassen, his attorney.

Lt. Mike Keefe, the onetime VOTF commander who had questioned Trump's credibility, now works a property crimes detail in the Third Precinct.

Sgt. Pat King, accused by Keefe of making racial slurs and then cleared by internal affairs, remains with VOTF. King would not comment for this story.

In January, Sgt. Charlie Adams was awarded $85,000 in damages in his defamation suit against the department. He said he had not had contact with Trump in 20 years.

In late 2008, the Minneapolis City Council was set to vote on a proposed $2 million settlement with the black officers in their discrimination lawsuit, but the deal fell apart. Two of the officers have since been promoted, and a trial was set for March 2010. Then, on April 10, a settlement paying the officers a combined $740,000 was announced. It does not require the city to revamp its policies or practices.

In the sole prosecution resulting from the corruption probe, officer Mike Roberts is scheduled for trial in May for taking $200 from the FBI's informant, which he admitted in a signed confession. Roberts was recorded on video and audiotape taking the money. Federal authorities also charged him with tax evasion for not declaring income from moonlighting as a security guard. In an FBI report, Roberts said he refused an FBI request to cooperate in its investigation of other officers. His attorney said he had no further comment for this story.

Sheila (She Baby) Haynes, the original informant who triggered the probe by alleging she saw cops at Trump's home being paid with cash and prostitutes, ultimately changed her story, although authorities would not detail how it had changed. Late in the investigation, she made admissions to federal authorities that led them to conclude she had shaded the truth to string out her payments as a confidential informant. Because her cooperation led to Trump's arrest, she received money from the FBI to help her leave the state. She was not available for comment for this story.

As for Trump, he is expected to be sentenced for mortgage fraud and drug dealing after the Roberts trial is over. His attorney said he would not comment for this story.

He was taken off the streets in spring 2008 by FBI agents who feared his life was in danger. They secreted him out of Minnesota, far from the Twin Cities jail grapevine.

Trump sits in a jail cell in another state, awaiting the sentencing that will determine if he gets yet another chance to reconsider his life.

pmcenroe@startribune.com • 612-673-1745 tonyk@startribune.com • 612-673-4213

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