Minneapolis sets 48-hour limit on officer statements

  • Article by: David Chanen
  • Star Tribune
  • October 18, 2007 - 9:40 PM

The killing of a mentally unstable man by Minneapolis police last year has changed the way the department will investigate officer-involved shootings.

The new policy on so-called "critical incident" cases will require officers who kill or seriously wound a suspect to give a statement within 48 hours from the day after the incident. The department previously had no time limit, which often frustrated the victim's relatives and community leaders.

The two officers involved in the September 2006 shooting of Dominic Felder, a 27-year-old man who tried to grab one of their guns, didn't give their statements about what happened until a week later.

A grand jury and an internal department investigation found no wrongdoing on the part of the officers, but Chief Tim Dolan commissioned former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones to conduct a $50,000 review of the internal probe.

Among other findings, Jones' report upheld the department's critical incident policy, but recommended a time limit for officers to give a statement.

"We knew our critical incident policy needed some tweaking, but I feel we're pretty darn close to having a policy that works for the officers and citizens of Minneapolis," Dolan said. "This is about transparency."

But the policy change has already come under criticism from the Police Federation. In a letter to Dolan, Mayor R.T. Rybak and the City Council, the federation outlined a variety of reasons why the department should repeal the policy.

Experts have uniformly determined that people who have been involved in traumatic experiences are not always able to immediately recall many important, specific details about the event, the federation said.

Because statements to criminal investigators are voluntary and since police officers have no fewer constitutional rights than anyone else, the 48-hour statement policy may result in officers refusing to give a voluntary statement at any time, the letter said. Statements that are compelled by the department are considered "coerced confessions" and can't be used against the officer in a criminal proceeding.

In Los Angeles, an officer has 36 hours to give a statement. Federation president John Delmonico said the Minneapolis policy will be ineffective because it states that an officer has to give a statement within three days "unless the officer is unable to do so."An officer could give any reason why they were unable to give a statement, such as they aren't ready to do it or their lawyer said not talk," Delmonico said. "You can't put out a policy that limits an officer's constitutional rights."

Dolan said officers will have to give a legitimate reason why they can't give a statement within 48 hours, "and the decision will be made by me to approve it."

Felder's death was used as a case study to examine the department's handling of the internal investigation, and Dolan said it wasn't his responsibility to reexamine the facts of the case.

Felder was shot by officers Jason King and Lawrence Loonsfoot near Felder's house on the 3900 block of Bloomington Avenue S. Police said the officers were responding to a domestic-incident call at Felder's house. Felder, they said, resisted arrest, fought with the officers and grabbed King's gun.

Loonsfoot shot and killed Felder. Jones' report said Felder's DNA was found on King's gun, specifically on the slide, rails and front sight of the gun. The elapsed time between the two officers' arrival at the scene and struggle was two minutes.

Jones' report suggested the department work with 911 dispatchers to find a more efficient way to determine if a call involves a person with mental illness. The department has officers trained to deal with people in mental crisis that quickly respond to these incidents.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465

David Chanen •

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