A Minneapolis police officer whose two excessive force lawsuits have cost the city $410,000 has had 19 complaints filed against him since he started in 2007, six of them last year.
All but three of the complaints against officer Michael Griffin, a patrol officer on the North Side, have been closed with no discipline; three cases are still under investigation. The city did not release details of any of the closed cases, which is standard procedure in cases that do not result in discipline.
Griffin, a winner of the department’s medal of valor for his response to the 2012 Accent Signage killings, had two complaints in 2007, his first year with the department, and at least one complaint every year since.
The six complaints against him last year were among the 943 complaints against approximately 800 sworn officers, according to the city.
Neither the internal affairs (I.A.) process nor lawsuits fully get to the truth of what happened in misconduct cases, said Blong Yang, the chair of the City Council’s Public Safety committee and an attorney. And many people with complaints skip that process altogether, he said, instead filing a lawsuit, which can result in financial compensation.
“I think the I.A. process is a process that’s really skewed toward officer self-reporting,” he said, calling the process frustrating. “It’s usually done before the trial even commences. That way you’re not even getting full facts for the I.A. process that could lead to discipline.”
Anyone can file a complaint with internal affairs or the Office of Police Conduct Review, including citizens who feel they’ve been mistreated or police officers who are duty-bound by the department’s code of conduct to report a fellow officer’s misconduct. The complaints range from an officer’s use of inappropriate language to excessive force to squad car operation.
Asked about Griffin’s record, Police Chief Janeé Harteau didn’t address his case directly, saying the department takes every interaction with the public seriously.
“We continuously review the reports from citizens about their contacts with our staff, both positive and negative. We continue to address complaints against officers with Internal Affairs and the Office of Police Conduct Review through the Civil Rights Office,” the statement said.
She pointed to a sharp reduction in complaints since 2011; the city’s Results Minneapolis report says complaints dropped from 1,853 that year to 934 last year.
Police expert Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum said it’s difficult to know what to make of the officer’s history, since details are not public.
He said it’s important for departments to develop an early warning system to track an officer’s performance.
“This is an issue for departments as they look at their I.A. complaints and they have some officers who have multiple complaints. … Getting behind what’s causing that is very important,” Wexler said.
The complaints against Griffin were made to the Internal Affairs unit of the Police Department, or through the citizen process that was formerly known as the Civilian Police Review Authority and now goes by the Office of Police Conduct Review.
Costly fights detailed in suits
Nearly all of the public details that have emerged about Griffin and excessive force were delivered in two lawsuits filed in 2010 and 2011.
In both of the excessive force complaints, Griffin was accused of punching or kicking people while he was off-duty at downtown bars.
In March, U.S. District Judge David Doty ordered the city to pay $145,653 in attorney’s fees for the lawsuit brought by Jeremy Axel, an IT salesman from St. Louis Park who was knocked unconscious by Griffin on Nov. 4, 2011. In December, a federal jury awarded Axel $125,000 in his excessive-force claim against the officer.
A month later, the City Council approved a $140,000 settlement with Ibrahim Regai, who alleged that he was threatened, followed, then punched and knocked to the ground by Griffin outside a Minneapolis bar on May 29, 2010.
Axel said he filed a lawsuit in the hopes that it would lead to discipline for Griffin, or even the officer’s firing.
“I make plenty of dough. The money has nothing to do with it. My initial inception and reason to do this was to get him fired,” said Axel.
When an internal affairs investigator asked to speak with Axel, he said he didn’t call back, saying he didn’t trust the process.
Although an internal affairs case was opened, it was eventually closed with no discipline issued, according to city records.
A 2013 examination of city payouts for alleged police misconduct found that despite $14 million in payments over the past seven years, the city of Minneapolis Police Department rarely concluded that the police officers involved did anything wrong, a Star Tribune analysis found.
In 95 payouts between 2006 and 2012 to people who said they were mistreated by a police officer, eight lead to officers being disciplined.
Among complaints filed against police officers in 2013, five lead to suspensions, eight to letters of reprimand, 30 to nondisciplinary ends such as coaching or counseling, and two officers were fired.