Witnesses allege police misconduct at north Mpls. Elks lodge

  • Article by: MAYA RAO
  • Star Tribune
  • May 3, 2012 - 8:19 PM

The 911 calls from Elks Lodge 106 in north Minneapolis came after a man overturned tables, threw punches and pulled out a knife.

Minneapolis cops also heard that someone had fired shots.

So they stormed the Plymouth Avenue club near midnight on April 21 with guns drawn, ordering dozens of people out and others to get down on the floor. But in the process of finding the perpetrator and checking for weapons, some say that white officers acted improperly in a crowd of middle-age, black attendees.

Seven witnesses shared their concern with the Star Tribune in separate interviews. Four of them said they heard officers use racist epithets, and six said they experienced or saw officers use excessive force.

Witness and civil rights activist Ron Edwards said he mailed a complaint Thursday to the internal affairs unit of the police department.

Sgt. Steve McCarty, a police spokesman, neither confirmed nor denied the allegations and said police would investigate any complaints filed about the incident.

"If there are [reports of] shots fired inside of a crowded Elks hall, the police are going to come with their guns out," he said. "Until they find out if there's a gun or not, they're going to put people on the ground and search people."

Still, he said, there are "very few circumstances" that would justify police kicking people on the ground.

McCarty said police had evidence that shots were fired inside the club, though no weapon was recovered; witnesses interviewed by the Star Tribune said no gun was fired.

No one accusing the police of rough treatment suffered serious injuries.

Witnesses at that night's 1970s-themed birthday party said that a man began disrupting the celebration, knocking over food and furniture and starting a fistfight. Community activist K.G. Wilson said that when he tried to break it up, the man pulled a knife and slightly wounded him in the chest.

The Fourth Precinct station is a fifth of a mile down the street, and the department assigned 46 squad cars to the scene at 11:21 p.m. The officers ordered the crowd in the basement to get out. Other cops stormed into a second- floor room.

Wilson and two witnesses told the Star Tribune that they didn't observe any police misconduct. "Police did their job, and they did it well," Sonji Lynn Kennedy said.

But Mishelle Howard said as a crowd was rushing down the stairs to leave, a police officer said they were not moving fast enough. She said he told them to get out and used a vulgar racial epithet.

Witnesses said police entered the second floor with guns drawn looking for a perpetrator in a brown shirt, though the suspect was wearing a red shirt.

Dwayne Williams was wearing a brown shirt and trying to bring the stabbing suspect under control. But police pushed Williams into a table that collapsed and put a gun in his face, he said.

Witnesses Lisa and Mark Miller, Tom Powell and Edwards supported that account.

Police ordered everyone on the ground. Lisa Miller, the highest-ranking woman in the lodge, said they told someone nearby, "Lay your black ass down."

Powell, 59, said he tried to explain to police that they had grabbed the wrong guy when they ordered him down, too.

As he tried to speak while on the ground, he said, officers kicked him, stomped on his legs and back, and told him to shut up.

Witnesses said police demanded to know where the gun was. Eventually they arrested Tony Hallmon, 51 -- the only person charged -- for the assault on Wilson.

Rickey Jones, who was hired to film the party, said police officers pulled him into a room and seized his camera equipment and cellphone for evidence. One of the officers in the room said they would "lock his black ass up" if he didn't turn over the equipment, he said.

The city approved a $15,000 settlement for Jones, 53, in 2010 after he sued the police over a 2002 incident in which he alleged that they took his equipment while he was at a party and beat him.

Edwards, 73, said that a police officer on the second floor jabbed his forearm into his collarbone, kicked him and used vulgarities and racial epithets.

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210

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