A Minneapolis police sergeant filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the city Tuesday claiming he was transferred to a less prestigious assignment after questioning the handling of an investigation into a man standing next to Mayor Betsy Hodges in a well-publicized photo last fall.
Sgt. Jesse Garcia says he was set to be transferred from robbery to the high-profile Violent Offender Task Force in mid-November. Instead, he was transferred — despite outstanding job reviews — to the Third Precinct’s property crimes division, “a unit with less prestige and significantly reduced job responsibilities,” according to the lawsuit filed in Hennepin County District Court.
The move came shortly after Garcia raised concerns about the dropped prosecution of a suspect in an attempted robbery on the North Side in August. Garcia, 49, who recently took leave from the department for stage four stomach-cancer treatment, said the robbery suspect was featured in a photo with Hodges during a get-out-the-vote effort in November.
Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said, “We have every reason to believe that the police department’s actions were legal and appropriate, and we will vigorously defend the lawsuit in court.”
The Hodges photograph drew publicity because the mayor and the man had their fingers pointed at each other, a gesture that some criticized as a gang sign. The photo prompted a lively discussion on social media.
The incident that Garcia investigated occurred on Aug. 2, when a man pulled a gun out of a black bag and pointed it at another man, yelling at him to stop. But the man kept walking and called 911. Officers arrived and found five men at a bus stop, including one who fit the caller’s description and had a black bag behind him. A gun was found nearby, the complaint said.
One of the five men arrested was the felon later photographed with Hodges in what came to be called “Pointergate.”
In November, Garcia determined that the attempted-robbery suspect was the same man in the photograph with Hodges. He also determined that additional evidence had been collected to connect the man to the handgun used in the attempted robbery. Garcia met with a prosecutor who confirmed an intent to pursue the case.
Shortly thereafter, he met with his commander to update her on the case. She informed him it wouldn’t be prosecuted. Garcia said he was then removed from the case and given no reason why. “The only reason for killing the investigation was because of the bad press ‘Pointergate’ had created for Mayor Hodges,” the lawsuit says.
Garcia said he objected to his commander’s plan to drop the case, and she informed him that an internal affairs case had been opened on him. A couple of days later, Garcia said he learned his transfer to the task force had been canceled. In early December, he was moved to the Third Precinct.
His rank and pay remain the same, but the lawsuit said that because of the “prestige demotion,” Garcia has suffered “emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, pain and suffering, loss of reputation, loss of enjoyment of life” and lost potential earnings.