The officers were accused of using racial slurs and berating police while off-duty in Green Bay.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau never wavered on her highly publicized decision last December to fire two police officers accused of using racial slurs, berating local officers and disparaging the chief herself during an off-duty incident in Green Bay, Wis.
Last month, she dug in even deeper when officers Brian Thole and Shawn Powell tried to regain their jobs before the city’s Civil Service Commission. She testified that the officers’ terminations were necessary to maintain public trust and that their behavior damaged the department and the profession.
Now the commission has vindicated Harteau’s stance, upholding the dismissals of Thole and Powell, and Harteau still says it’s been a difficult episode for the department.
In a statement issued Monday, Harteau said it’s never easy to fire someone, and in an interview several hours later she added that she was mortified when she saw the video that captured some of Powell and Thole’s behavior.
“It was their plain disrespect for everyone,” Harteau said. “It started in the streets and ended back at the police station. Nothing was enough for them.”
The June 2013 incident was the subject of a 40-page report released by the Green Bay police that triggered an internal affairs investigation in Minneapolis. Another report released this June by the commission provides a detailed timeline of the officers’ actions.
Thole and Powell have denied the allegations, and their lawyer, Gregg Corwin, declined to comment. The police union didn’t contest the firings, which meant the officers had to pay their own legal fees.
When the incident first came to light, it brought immediate condemnation from city, police and union leaders. The Star Tribune learned days later that at least three more Minneapolis officers had been cited for assault months before in a similar incident in Apple Valley.
The two cases ignited a round of public recriminations and reawakened simmering complaints about racial intolerance by police officers. Community activists held a news conference on the front steps of City Hall to call for a U.S. Justice Department audit of the department.
The June commission report and termination recommendation were followed by a hearing in front of the full commission, which decided last week to uphold the firings.
What happened in Green Bay
The report offered this chronology:
The officers, both decorated officers in the military and the Police Department, took a motorcycle ride to Green Bay to mark the anniversary of Powell’s father’s death. While at a downtown bar in the early evening, Thole was talking to a Green Bay officer. A car with a black driver passed by, and Thole said, “What is that? Green Bay is too [racial epithet] friendly.”
The officers went to another bar. As they left, a man from a rowdy group in the street called Powell “white boy,” he later told investigators. After confronting the man, the officers said, they felt threatened and identified themselves as off-duty police officers.
Thole later said that he believed that he was going to be assaulted, and punched one of the men in the head.
Two men from the group told Green Bay police officers that the fight began after Thole and Powell used a racial slur. Powell said he was initially grateful that police were on the scene, but grew frustrated when officers didn’t appear to take them seriously — particularly their claim that they been the assault victims.
During the same stretch of the evening, another Green Bay officer said he heard Powell use the same racial slur and that Thole referred to black men from the group as doing their “monkey thing.”
When another officer said he was going to take a report on the incident, Thole objected, making a personal slur about Chief Harteau and asserting that she was looking to fire people on her staff for any reason.