July 18: State pulls plug on gang unit
- Article by: RANDY FURST
- Star Tribune
- August 20, 2009 - 11:50 AM
The Metro Gang Strike Force came to an abrupt end on Friday when Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion announced that he was permanently disbanding the unit and its oversight board, and also shutting down an interim anti-gang unit that was scheduled to go into service this weekend.
"Developments over the past few weeks make it clear that it wouldn't be prudent to continue the Strike Force," Campion said.
His announcement came 2 1/2 hours after Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek held his own news conference to say his department was withdrawing from the Strike Force and recalling the unit's commander, Hennepin County Sheriff's Capt. Chris Omodt.
"The Metro Gang Strike Force is done," Stanek said, "not because I say so, but because no one has any trust in the Metro Gang Strike Force now or in the future. Ask the average person and they get it. There's no credibility."
Campion said a key reason for shutting down the Strike Force was the lack of participation by metro police agencies, particularly on the west side of the Mississippi River. The Minneapolis Police Department withdrew July 1 and Brooklyn Park police were no longer participating.
"A multi-jurisdictional task force is only successful with local partnerships, participation and consensus among the partners, and we clearly don't have that," Campion said.
Stanek disclosed recently that he has been meeting with the chiefs of suburban police departments in Hennepin County to craft a county-wide strategy and possible organizational structure to deal with gangs and violence.
While the disappearance of the Strike Force clearly leaves a vacuum in terms of a metro-wide approach to dealing with gangs, some critics say the Strike Force has been dysfunctional for several years, with some of the issues laid out in a May 20 report by the state Legislative Auditor.
The Strike Force has not been operating since that date, when Omodt suspended operations after he found Strike Force members shredding documents just hours after the auditor disclosed that $18,000 in seized funds was missing and many vehicles could not be accounted for. The following week Campion reported that the FBI was conducting a preliminary investigation of the Strike Force and that he was creating a state panel to carry out a second probe.
At a meeting Tuesday of the Strike Force Advisory Board, the unit's oversight body, it was apparent that the Strike Force faced serious problems. The interim unit, announced seven weeks earlier, lacked sufficient desks, had no computer systems set up, and the state attorney general's office was wavering on whether it should provide legal counsel to the board. Other decisions also were being put on hold because the unit's future was unclear.
Campion said his department will closely follow both the FBI and state investigations, and the "findings from those two parallel investigations will be the basis for any long-term strategy moving forward."
Campion and Stanek both noted that several law enforcement officials have been meeting as a committee of the Strike Force board to discuss a future approach to contend with gangs. Stanek said he will continue to attend those meetings. Also attending the sessions have been Rob Allen, deputy Minneapolis police chief; John Harrington, the St. Paul police chief, and Michael Davis, Brooklyn Park chief, who co-chaired the committee
Both Stanek's and Campion's announcements on Friday came on the heels of news reports that Manila "Bud" Shaver, the chairman of the Strike Force's oversight board, had attempted to intervene in January in a Strike Force investigation involving his daughter.
According to St. Paul police reports, Shaver asked that the Strike Force attempt to "get" his daughter's boyfriend, who the St. Croix County Sheriff's Department believed might have been involved in a home invasion in Hudson, Wis. But he asked that his personal vehicle, which his daughter was driving, not be forfeited if she were arrested.
Shaver's 19-year-old daughter, Anna, was arrested on Jan. 27 by St. Paul police for drug possession; she was placed in a diversion program for drug treatment by a Ramsey County judge. The car was returned to Shaver.
Asked if the Shaver case contributed to Hennepin County's decision to pull out of the unit, Stanek said, "It was the latest thing to damage credibility. This isn't about one person. It's about credibility, and that has been destroyed over many months."
On Shaver's case, Stanek said, "I'm a father, I have kids, I have sympathy for him." But, he added, "That's no excuse. You can't allow a conflict of interest."
Campion said he had too little information to offer an opinion on what Shaver had done. But he said that "perhaps there was some bad judgment. I don't know if it's illegal."
He said he had discussed his decision with legislative leaders, notified Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office, and spoken with Chief Shaver. He said when he talked to Shaver on Friday, "Chief Shaver said he would do whatever would be good for the Metro Gang Strike Force."
Campion was asked during a news conference if he was embarrassed by the ongoing revelations about the Strike Force. "I shouldn't be proud," he said. "Should anyone in law enforcement be proud of it?"
Stanek underscored at his news conference Friday that Omodt, who became commander of the Strike Force in January, was not implicated in any of the allegations made about the Strike Force.
"There are serious allegations of wrongdoing that are being investigated," said Stanek. "I want to make very clear: Captain Omodt was not a member of the unit when any of this took place. Instead, he was brought in to reform the Gang Strike Force. Capt. Omodt is an outstanding law enforcement officer with a proven record."
Omodt appeared at the news conference, read a statement, but did not answer any questions.
"As a public servant for the past 29 years, I am proud to have served and will continue to serve with great pride in a commitment to public safety," Omodt said.
"It has been tremendously frustrating in recent months that I have not been able to do the important work of fighting gangs. My career is based on honesty, integrity and treating others with respect, and these values will not change."
He said he looked forward to "returning to the duties in the sheriff's office, where I can use my experience in fighting gangs."
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382
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