Crime fighters gone rogue

Seized money: One man fought back

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2011 - 1:37 PM

Wilbur Haisley had $3,319 - until a Metro Gang Strike Force officer took it.

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Wilbur Haisley stood in front of Gabby’s, a Minneapolis nightclub, where he had $3,319 taken from him by a Metro Gang Strike Force member in March. After a seven-month legal battle, he got his money back.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Wilbur Haisley is no stranger to the police, but nothing prepared him for the encounter he had with a member of the Metro Gang Strike Force last winter.

In the early hours of March 1, a Strike Force member caught Haisley with 6 grams of marijuana at a Minneapolis nightclub. It's the kind of misdemeanor offense that is usually pleaded down to a loitering offense and comes with a $50 fine, according to Gay Glaze, a Hennepin County public defender who handles such cases.

But instead of arresting Haisley or charging him with a crime, officer David Garman simply seized the dope and $3,319 from Haisley's pocket and told him to leave the nightclub. The Strike Force didn't pursue the investigation or return the money until Haisley, who drives a delivery truck, proved the cash came from a tax refund and that he was using the money to shop for a used car earlier in the day.

The incident is one of many that led a pair of independent investigators to conclude that Strike Force members were putting a misplaced emphasis on minor drug offenses that were not gang-related. Most of these incidents involved people of color, according to former Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger and retired FBI agent John Egelhof, who were asked in May by state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion to review the unit's conduct. Haisley is black.

In their report, the investigators said they were "deeply concerned" by the encounter, noting it is "highly unusual" to seize large sums of cash over such minor drug offenses.

Garman was fired in September by the Minneapolis Police Department for misconduct in another Strike Force case. He has moved from his home and did not return messages left with relatives.

Haisley, 28, is not considered a gang member by metro police agencies, according to sources with access to GangNet, a computer file of suspected gang members. But he has had a number of run-ins with the law.

His most serious offense occurred in 2006, when he spent two days in jail and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault for a fight with his girlfriend. He paid a $150 fine and was put on probation for a year.

Haisley received citations in two other incidents, one in which he was seen trying to buy marijuana and the other in which he was suspected of trying to sell marijuana, records show. One case was dismissed and the other didn't lead to criminal charges. Haisley denied being involved in either incident.

It was around midnight on March 1 when Haisley arrived at Gabby's Saloon & Eatery, a northeast Minneapolis nightclub. A bouncer asked about the bulge in Haisley's pocket. Haisley showed him a roll of cash totaling more than $3,000.

A few minutes later, another bouncer located Haisley and took him to the club's office, where he met Garman. The officer regularly worked off-duty at the club handling parking lot security, according to owner Jeff Ormand.

Haisley said Garman quickly found the marijuana and the cash.

"I had a lot of money on me. It doesn't make me a drug dealer," Haisley told the Star Tribune.

Unlike many Strike Force suspects, Haisley fought back. He hired an attorney and sued the Strike Force in conciliation court. He got a note from Bloomington Lincoln Mercury confirming that he'd been shopping for a used car, and he was able to document that the cash came from a recent bank withdrawal.

West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver, chairman of the Strike Force advisory board, declined to explain why no criminal charges were filed against Haisley, or why it took seven months for the Strike Force to return his money.

Haisley used part of the cash to buy his fiancée a 1999 Taurus. They were married in October.

"You can't go around taking people's money," Haisley said.

  • about this series

  • In 2009, the Metro Gang Strike Force was shut down amid state and federal investigations. It was Minnesota's worst law enforcement meltdown in decades. The Star Tribune broke the first stories about the unit's troubles and the newspaper's dogged reporting ultimately showed what led to its demise.

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