Tape tells the tale that cops didn’t: Couple get $100,000

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 28, 2009 - 6:08 AM

The city of Minneapolis has settled couple's case alleging false arrest and discrimination for $100,000.

According to a police report, Nancy Johnson jumped on a Minneapolis police officer's back as he fought with her partner, Derrick Simmons, when they were arrested the night of Aug. 4, 2006.

But a Hennepin County Safe Zone camera affixed above the north Minneapolis intersection where officers stopped Simmons' car told a different story. In the video, as two officers struggle with Simmons, Johnson exits the car but returns when ordered without joining the struggle. The video exposed parts of Officer Lucas Peterson's report to be fiction. And that fiction, plus other problems with the arrests, recently cost the city $100,000 in legal settlements to Johnson, 34, and Simmons, 38.

The couple maintained in civil filings that Peterson and Officer Mark Kaspszak falsely arrested them and discriminated against them because they are black. A judge dismissed charges against them after finding a lack of "credible evidence."

Peterson, who joined the department in 1999, spent three years as a member of the disbanded Metro Gang Strike Force. According to an Oct. 16 Star Tribune story citing law enforcement sources, he is one of eight members of the department under investigation for alleged misconduct related to their work in the unit.

Simmons, who declined to comment, has had legal troubles of his own. According to state records, since 1998 he's been convicted of four felonies, including burglary and terroristic threats.

Police spokesman Jesse Garcia said he knew of no internal investigation or discipline of the officers related to the north Minneapolis traffic stop. He said that apart from whether the stop was justified or what was written in reports, it's clear that Simmons acted inappropriately.

"I think it needs to be looked at as two separate issues," Garcia said, "and clearly Simmons was interfering with the legal process that involved himself."

A city spokesman said Tuesday that the $65,000 settlement to Johnson and $35,000 settlement to Simmons "are the most cost-effective solutions in these cases." He declined further comment.

It's the latest video to come back to bite Minneapolis police. In December 2008 a parking garage camera captured officers beating Nicholas Kastner during his arrest for car burglaries. He filed a federal lawsuit.

Video showed officers kicking Derryl Jenkins in the head during a traffic stop in February. Chief Tim Dolan ordered all officers to watch the video with a supervisor and discuss appropriate use of force.

Peterson wrote in his report that they stopped Simmons' Mercedes at Broadway and Fremont Avenues because it was going faster than 60 miles per hour. They said that when they informed him he was under arrest, he turned aggressively, and they scuffled with him.

The couple's attorney, Stephen Smith, acknowledges that Simmons "should not have ended up in the position he was in."

He said Simmons spun around because he didn't understand why he was being arrested. Johnson, he said, has no history of trouble with the police.

Couple 'lucky' they found tape

The video shows her approaching the scuffle, but she returns when one of the officers orders her back to the car. Peterson, in his report, wrote, "I looked up to notice that the female passenger was clinging to my partner from his back. It appeared she was holding him in a reverse bear hug." He wrote that she later attacked Kaspszak a second time, and in response he -- Peterson -- maced her. The tape depicts none of that, and Johnson testified it wasn't true.

Kaspszak testified that he did not recall Johnson jumping on his back, nor did he recall her being maced. After reviewing the tape twice, Judge Robert Blaeser dismissed the case.

"One officer says the car was silver; one says it was gold," Blaeser said. "One says it ran a red light; one doesn't say anything about that. One says he saw somebody throw something out the driver's door; the other one did not. One says the passenger was jumping on the back of an officer, pulling the officer, and that he maced her; and the other one does not. I'm going to find that there's not enough credible evidence for a stop in this case."

Smith, the couple's attorney, said "My clients got lucky, finding that tape. You stop and think about how many times that has happened to individuals who don't have independent corroboration."

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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