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A high-ranking Minneapolis police officer and a well-known North Side officer have been relieved of duty pending the results of a federal investigation.
The officers are Lt. Lee Edwards, one of five black officers suing the police department over allegations of racial discrimination, and Mike Roberts, a 29-year member of the department. Neither officer could be reached for comment Saturday.
Roberts allegedly received $200 for giving information to an undercover informant, according to sources with knowledge of the case. The allegations against Edwards are unclear.
The scope of the FBI investigation that began last summer goes beyond the two officers and is being described as very serious in nature, the sources said. Chief Tim Dolan said he couldn't comment at this time.
Roberts and Edwards were placed on paid administrative leave Friday, said Sgt. Bill Palmer, a department spokesman.
FBI Special Agent Paul McCabe said Saturday he couldn't confirm or deny whether the agency was investigating.
Edwards also is the top candidate for the police chief's job in Northfield.
Minneapolis City Council Member Ralph Remington said Saturday he is deeply troubled by the move.
"The timing is very peculiar," he said. "And it would beg a question of retaliation, especially considering there's a lawsuit pending from five black police officers and Edwards is one of them."
Remington, one of two black members of the council, also said the accusation involving Edwards at a time when he is pursuing the Northfield job "obviously jeopardizes his livelihood.'' He said the city should look at any disparities regarding the discipline between black and white officers.
"It makes me wonder about the temperature of the police department concerning racial sensitivity," Remington said.
Northfield City Administrator Al Roder, who said he learned of the investigation Saturday, plans to ask the City Council on Monday night to approve a preferred candidate for the job. He would not say whether that person is Edwards.
"Obviously, if he is, then we're very concerned and we'd want to know more about it," he said.
Edwards, a former head of the homicide unit, was the inspector in charge of the department's Fourth Precinct, on the North Side, until Dolan removed him last summer after allegations that he drove a squad car after drinking and making inappropriate sexual comments in front of colleagues. Sources now say the ongoing federal investigation played a role in Dolan's decision.
Edwards was exonerated of the drinking allegation but still may face disciplinary action for the inappropriate comments.
Andrew Muller, a lawyer representing Edwards in the racial discrimination suit, said the current allegations are baseless. There is no connection between Edwards and Roberts, he said.
"The intent of the allegations against Lt. Edwards can only be to punish and intimidate those on the MPD who speak out against discrimination," Muller said. "Mayor Rybak seems content to let Chief Dolan run roughshod, and to let him do as he pleases, without concern for how it will impact the city and race relations within its departments."
Allegations of payments
Ron Edwards, a member of the Police Community Relations Council and a longtime friend of Roberts', said he learned about the investigation Friday after talking to Roberts, who he said is devastated by the allegations.
Roberts was questioned by federal agents Thursday after Fourth Precinct Inspector Mike Martin asked Roberts to delivery a package to FBI headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, Edwards said.
He said Roberts told him the investigation started in August, when the officer was approached by a drug dealer working as an informant. The man, who portrayed himself as a businessman, asked Roberts whether he could look up some driver's license information, Ron Edwards said. The man told Roberts his car had been hit after he was robbed of jewelry and $5,000, but he had written down the plate number.
For his help, the man gave Roberts $100, Edwards said.
Edwards said he ran into Roberts less than 15 minutes later, at which time Roberts said he couldn't keep the $100 and gave it to Edwards in appreciation of his community work. The incident, including the money exchange with Ron Edwards, was videotaped by authorities.
According to Ron Edwards, the man approached Roberts several days later and asked for an update on the robbery case. Roberts said he didn't know anything, but the man gave him another $100 for his help, Ron Edwards said.
Edwards said Roberts told him he should have reported the payments but didn't lie when he was interviewed by the agents.
"I hope the U.S. attorney takes this to a grand jury right away and the U.S. Department of Justice comes in and takes a look at the police department," Edwards said.
Staff writers Terry Collins and Sarah Lemagie contributed to this report. David Chanen • 612-673-4465