The #pointergate scandal took on new life late Thursday as Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges broke her silence on the controversial TV news story that has gotten national attention just hours before KSTP-TV took to the airwaves to defend its original reporting.
Hodges, in a blog post, took aim at police union chief John Delmonico, who she said was trying to prevent her from “working to raise the standards of police culture and accountability.”
The mayor dismissed the on-air comments by Delmonico in last week’s story that questioned whether the mayor supports gangs or the police after a photo surfaced of her and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change canvasser, Navell Gordon, making a hand gesture that several law enforcement officials said looked like a gang sign. The ensuing social media backlash, Hodges said, shined “the light of day on the ridiculous premise on which it was based.”
But KSTP, about 45 minutes into their nightly newscast, aired a story from reporter Steve Tellier that said a law enforcement source outside Minneapolis Police gave the station the photo and shared their concerns. The station was skeptical initially, Tellier said, and they spent four days vetting the story. They took the photo to eight active police officers from different agencies and one retired Minneapolis officer – who “all strongly agreed the picture was problematic,” Tellier said.
“It’s hard to understand why such a seemingly simple photo could be potentially dangerous. But police say the mere existence of it could put the public and possibly police in danger,” he said.
The controversy comes less than a year into Hodges’ first mayoral term, and after she sent an open letter to residents saying that the police department had some officers who “abuse the trust” of the public, which could lead to a “downward spiral.”
In her blog post, Hodges said, “There is a critical difference between our good officers who have a bad day on the job, and officers, however few, who have a standing habit of mistreatment and poor judgment when relating to the public, particularly people of color. I am as concerned with the negative effects of this conduct on the police department as a whole as I am with its effects on our community. I am convinced that we can change it, even if it takes years.”
Hodges’ post came exactly a week after the KSTP story originally aired. The mayor through a spokesperson declined several opportunities to comment on the rift between her and Delmonico, which some say dates back to her days on the City Council.
The blog appeared after a group of protesters descended on Augsburg College, where KSTP owner Stanley Hubbard was speaking, and demanded that he apologize for the story, which he refused to do.
Tellier, in his report, said multiple law enforcement sources say the hand gesture is a known gang sign for the Stick Up Boys and gang signs present in a photo with the mayor could be perceived as a threat.
“It’s difficult for many Minnesotans to understand but just the slightest perceived provocation could spark violence,” Tellier said. The story included a phone interview with Bruce Ferrell, president of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association, saying that the photo of Hodges “gives the appearance that she is condoning that type of behavior.”
He concluded the report showing photos of the canvasser, Navell Gordon, on Instagram flashing the same hand sign repeatedly. Tellier concluded the report, saying: “Others can interpret the facts as they see fit. But these are the facts.”