Internal affairs report says Gang Strike Force violated rights.
A south Minneapolis drug raid last year led by four police officers from the Metro Gang Strike Force has triggered a police internal affairs investigation that found the raid was conducted without a search warrant, violated department protocols and could result in a federal prosecution of the officers for civil rights violations.
A Minneapolis Police Department internal affairs investigator was unsparing in his criticism of the way police officers behaved in the Feb. 12, 2009, raid on an apartment in the 2000 block of Portland Avenue, according to police department documents.
"The actions taken by the officers in this case were clearly without regard to the constitutional rights of the complainants," Sgt. Robert Krebs of the internal affairs unit wrote. "This matter would likely rise to a violation of civil rights under existing federal statutes."
Krebs wrote that the officers made "ludicrous" assertions in defending their seizure of cell phones in the raid. Documents also cite witness accounts of an officer repeatedly kicking a 20-year-old man for not complying quickly with police demands to get on the floor.
Officers found crack cocaine in the apartment, and arrested one man there on an unrelated drug warrant, police files show. But Deputy Hennepin County Attorney Pat Diamond said it does not appear that anyone else was arrested in connection with the raid.
Details of the incident, not made public before, were included in 160 pages of police internal affairs documents obtained by the Star Tribune under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.
The Metro Gang Strike Force came under a barrage of criticism over misconduct allegations and was shut down last summer..
One Strike Force officer, David Garman, the "case agent" in the raid, was fired for allegedly covering up the seizure of cell phones in the incident, sources said last year. He filed a grievance and the department agreed to reinstate him in April with his discipline reduced to 30 hours lost pay.
Minneapolis police spokesman William Palmer said police can't discuss the raid or the internal investigation because of pending disciplinary issues.
But the police internal affairs documents and recent interviews with people inside the apartment provide a chilling account of the incident.
'A gun in my face'
According to the documents, the officers who conducted the raid said they went to the apartment because an informant, arrested earlier in the day on a drug charge, said there were guns and drugs in the apartment and two people were being held against their will.
The internal affairs unit launched an inquiry into the raid after Jordan Hall, 22, whose cell phone was seized, filed a complaint on behalf of himself and his roommate Jay Lark, 50, who also had his cell phone taken.
Last week, four of the men present in the apartment during the raid described what happened in an interview:
"I opened the door and there was a gun in my face," Lark said. "It was someone in plain clothes and he said 'Minneapolis police. Get down on the floor.'" Lark said he lay down as police burst into the kitchen. Hall said he was in the living room, heard the order and got down on the floor, too.
Michael Fowler Sr., 46, said he was playing a video game in the living room with his son, Michael Fowler Jr., 22. When police entered, he said he got on the floor and heard his son screaming. He said he turned to see an officer kicking his son. "Stop stomping my son," the elder Fowler said he shouted.
According to the internal affairs documents, Fowler told police his son was hearing-impaired and could not hear the police instructions. The officers accused the father of lying, Fowler told the investigators.
The son told internal affairs investigators, "I told them I can't hear, I can't understand them."
Hall told the internal affairs investigators that he was taken into the bedroom and asked by police if he was being held against his will, which he denied.
The elder Fowler said a woman visiting the apartment was questioned by police, who then retrieved some cocaine from the fireplace. According to the internal affairs documents, one officer slammed Fowler against the wall, asking whose drugs they were, and Hall said they belonged to the woman. She could not be reached for comment last week.
Garman told internal affairs investigators that no one admitted to owning the drugs, so no one was charged.
Hall and Lark told the internal affairs investigator that when they asked for their cell phones back as the officers left, one cop yelled an obscenity.
Dispute of force used
The next day, Michael Fowler Jr. went to Hennepin County Medical Center, where a doctor found he had contusions on his right leg, right shoulder and a small abrasion on his left jaw, according to hospital medical records. He was prescribed pain medications.
Mike Nimlos, an officer in the raid, denied to internal affairs police that force was used. Nimlos said the boy was accidentally kicked by his father.
The officers told internal affairs they were invited into the apartment and did not draw their guns.
Drug seizures require timely action by officers, Krebs wrote in his internal affairs report. But, he added, "The response should not be with indifference to the constitutional rights of the potential suspects.
"There is a preponderance of evidence that officers entered the residence without any voluntary consent on the part of the complainants and that personal properties, specifically cell phones, were seized without legal justification," Krebs wrote.
Police did not report or turn in the cell phones to the evidence room until 30 days after the incident, "and only after the involved officers became aware of an internal affairs investigation," the report said.
No search warrant was issued and the officers did not claim an urgent need to enter the apartment, the report said. While in the apartment, police Sgt. Randy Olson asked Garman to interview Hall, who said it was all right for police to be in the apartment, according to the report. The interview "is clearly a weak attempt to justify actions that had been taken by officers after the fact," the internal affairs report said.
The phones "are personal and private properties," and police offered no legal justification for taking them other than to say they were "abandoned property," the report added.
Witnesses found consistent
Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher wrote that while the complainants and witnesses may have criminal backgrounds, their statements were consistent and none of the alleged actions by the officers was exaggerated by complainants and witnesses -- "adding to their credibility."
Olson resigned from the police department last August while facing an internal inquiry for stalking a woman. Craig Cascarano, attorney for Olson, said, "I am confident Randy Olson has no culpability whatsoever" in the raid. The Minneapolis Police Federation, which defended Garman, has declined to discuss the case.
The FBI has been investigating the Strike Force for 14 months, and a focus has been on potential civil rights violations. But the four people interviewed by the Star Tribune who were in the apartment during the raid said they had not been interviewed by the agency.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382