Strike Force victims win more money

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 5, 2012 - 9:56 AM

Federal judge's awards close the book on the $3M settlement.

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Left to right: Zenaldo Rivera Garcia, his wife Gloria Nunez Guevara and her sister Veronica Nunez Guevara talked about the money awards resulting from being victimized by the now disbanded Metro Gang Strike Force.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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A federal judge in Minneapolis awarded a total of $37,000 on Tuesday to 17 individuals who had confrontations with the scandal-ridden Metro Gang Strike Force, bringing to 110 the number of people who have received compensation in a class-action lawsuit.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen came as part of an appellate process and closes the books on awards in the $3 million settlement of a suit that was filed after a series of revelations in 2009 that the now disbanded Strike Force had violated people's civil rights.

Of Ericksen's 17 monetary awards Tuesday, 11 involved the Brooklyn Park police.

That department was the target of a demonstration Tuesday by about 40 activists who want a former Strike Force officer, Sgt. Greg Burstad, suspended while he is being investigated by his department for incidents cited by claimants in the suit.

Communities United Against Police Brutality, an activist group, gave the police five complaints against Burstad on Tuesday, bringing to 27 the number of complaints that group has filed against him, mostly while he was a member of the Strike Force.

"Hey hey, ho ho, Gregory Burstad has got to go," protesters chanted Tuesday night.

Brooklyn Park Inspector Todd Milburn declined to comment on the Burstad investigation or on Ericksen's decision.

In her decision, Ericksen reviewed the history of the Strike Force misconduct, including "taking property from gang suspects and their associates without justification, failing to comply with legal requirements to give proper notice to owners of seized property, and unauthorized conversion of seized property to Strike Force and even officers' personal use."

When the suit was settled in 2010, attorney Mark Gehan was named a "special master" to weigh the claims of alleged Strike Force victims. In July, he awarded 96 people about $840,000.

Claimants could appeal Gehan's decisions if he awarded them no money or if they felt they were entitled to more, and about 60 did so. Ericksen raised the awards of three appellants and gave money to 14 people whom Gehan rejected.

To be eligible, an individual had to have been stopped, questioned or arrested by the Strike Force or someone assisting them, property had to be taken from one or more members of the group, and no forfeiture receipt given. Anyone whose encounter with the force resulted in their indictment or a criminal complaint was excluded from awards.

Ericksen awarded $3,000 each to seven people who lived in a Crystal apartment, raided by the force on July 29, 2008. The force seized more than a kilo of cocaine and a man was arrested and deported to Mexico.

The property management changed the locks on the apartment and removed all the contents, which the family never recovered. While Ericksen concluded the property was not taken by the force, she ruled that the force seized $160 but gave no forfeiture notice, making people eligible for awards.

Gehan had already found that Camerina Cuevas-Lopez, wife of the deportee, was an "innocent bystander" whose property was "misappropriated by the caretaker and/or apartment owners" and her losses were "truly heartbreaking." He awarded $5,000 to the family including $2,500 to her. Ericksen upped the $2,500 by $500 and gave $3,000 each to seven others in the apartment.

Attorney Phillip Johnson, who represented 37 Brooklyn Park claimants, said Tuesday, "I of course would have liked to have seen more compensation for my clients, but I would like to thank Judge Ericksen for her consideration."

Ericksen wrote that she and Gehan "employed an extremely low burden of proof" because collaborating evidence was not expected.

Joseph Daly, professor emeritus at Hamline University School of Law, said Strike Force attorneys likely agreed to the settlement because the cases might have run for years, costing millions in legal fees.

And if a jury heard of the worst misconduct, he said, "they could have whacked" the force "with extremely high punitive damages that would have gone off the charts."

The $3 million payout comes from an insurance fund set up by the League of Minnesota Cities to which the cities and counties that supplied Strike Officers belonged.

The $2 million that remains will be used to train law enforcement in the state on how to make legal seizures and deal more sensitively with minorities and different nationalities.

Staff writers Nicole Norfleet and David Chanen contributed to this article.

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  • Several dozen protestors, including those from the Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) and the Latino civil rights organization Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, gathered outside the Brooklyn Park Police Department to voice their concerns about officer Greg Burstad, who they say has engaged in a pattern of misconduct, brutality and criminal acts against Latinos and African Americans.

  • Antonia Alvarez (middle), St. Anthony, was among those gathered in front of the Brooklyn Park Police Station to voice her concerns. Several dozen protestors, including those from the Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) and the Latino civil rights organization Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, gathered outside the Brooklyn Park Police Department to voice their concerns about officer Greg Burstad, who they say has engaged in a pattern of misconduct, brutality and criminal acts against Latinos and African Americans.

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