A Minneapolis police officer with a history of brutality complaints was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury on nine separate criminal counts for alleged assaults on four men in two separate incidents at Minneapolis bars.
Patrol officer Michael Griffin, 40, has been the subject of 22 complaints, only one of which has been sustained by the Minneapolis Police Department.
Griffin is charged in the indictment with depriving the men of their civil rights, falsifying reports and committing perjury in testimony in two lawsuits filed against him.
The suits resulted in $410,000 in payouts by the city to the litigants and their attorneys.
The allegations are among the most serious federal charges brought against Minneapolis police officers in recent years.
“Police officers cannot use their shield as a weapon against innocent civilians,” U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said in a statement.
Ryan Kaess, Griffin’s St. Paul attorney, said Wednesday that Griffin had not broken the law. “My client steadfastly maintains his innocence of all charges,” Kaess said. “He intends to vigorously defend himself against these false accusations and is confident that when all the facts are presented to a jury he will be found not guilty.”
Griffin is expected to make a first public appearance at 10 a.m. Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Janie Mayeron in the U.S. Courthouse in Minneapolis.
The Minneapolis Police Department has been the target of a large number of brutality lawsuits. Griffin is black, and his alleged victims are white and black.
“I do hope that we are not looking at a double standard by federal authorities because there have been a number of cases involving white officers over the last five years where federal authorities appeared to show no interest,” said civil rights activist Ron Edwards, a former president of the Minneapolis Urban League, who sits on a police oversight committee appointed by Police Chief Janeé Harteau.
Luger: Race not a factor
This is the first police misconduct case that the U.S. attorney’s office has investigated since Luger became U.S. attorney in February 2014. “The race of an officer or victim is not and never will be a factor in my office’s charging decisions,” Luger said Wednesday.
Griffin works out of the Police Department’s Fourth Precinct; his status in light of the indictment is unknown.
Harteau was not immediately available for comment. She posted a statement on the department’s Facebook page that said in part: “I collaborate and work with the U.S. attorney’s office … and will continue to cooperate with their office on any requests related to today’s indictment.”
Lt. Bob Kroll, newly elected head of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, said the union was confident that Griffin would prevail. The two cases at the heart of the indictment never led to discipline, Kroll noted, making it surprising that the federal investigation found cause to pursue charges.
“Everybody’s shocked that the indictment came,” he said.
The union is not representing him in the federal case.
Scuffles at downtown bars
The indictment identifies the people Griffin is accused of assaulting only by their initials, although their names are known because of suits filed against him and the city.
The indictment describes a May 29, 2010, incident when Griffin was with a friend outside of the Aqua Nightclub and Lounge on 1st Avenue N. in downtown Minneapolis. He was off-duty and in plain clothes.
Griffin began arguing with Ibrahim Regai, showing his badge, the indictment says, and then followed Regai to the Envy bar, where Griffin “struck him in the face with his fist several times, rendering him unconscious.”
The indictment said Griffin wrote a police report that falsely claimed Regai was the aggressor.
In the second incident detailed in the indictment, Griffin was off-duty when he confronted four men — Jeremy Axel, Matthew Mitchell, Keyon Cooley and a fourth person identified as “MM” at the Loop bar in Minneapolis on Nov. 5, 2011.
The indictment said Griffin grabbed Cooley outside the bar, “flipped him to the ground … kicked MM in the chest and punched [Axel] in the head from behind, rendering [him] unconscious.”
More cops arrived, and Griffin gave “false, incomplete and misleading information, resulting in MM being arrested for obstructing a police officer with force,” the indictment said.
In depositions in both civil suits, Griffin embellished his accounts with more falsehoods, the indictment said.
“The FBI will vigorously investigate allegations of corruption of public servants,” Richard Thornton, special agent in charge of the Minneapolis FBI division, said in a statement. “No quarter will be given to those who would violate the public trust.”
Edwards, the civil rights activist, expressed regret at the turn of events for Griffin, who became an officer in 2007.
“It is so hard and difficult to get a person of color, African-Americans, into law enforcement in this state,” he said. “This was a young man who came into the department with high expectations. Something went wrong. He lost his vision of what he wanted to do.”
Two other Minneapolis police officers have been indicted by federal grand juries in recent years. Mike Roberts pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2009 and went to prison. Jason Andersen, a member of the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force, was acquitted in 2010 of violating a black teen’s civil rights by allegedly kicking him in the head.
Staff writer Matt McKinney contributed to this report.