12 Gang Force cops face probe
- Article by: DAVID CHANEN and RANDY FURST
- Star Tribune staff writers
- September 3, 2009 - 6:25 AM
The Minneapolis and St. Paul Police Departments said Wednesday they have opened internal investigations of 12 police officers who were assigned to the Metro Gang Strike Force.
The accused officers' names and the allegations against them were disclosed to leaders of the departments where they work in a Wednesday meeting led by Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion and Andy Luger, a former prosecutor who oversaw a state investigation into the disbanded anti-gang unit. A retired St. Paul police officer also has been accused of violations, and the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office previously announced that it is conducting an internal affairs investigation of a deputy assigned to the Strike Force.
The session was also attended by St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington, Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Lt. Susan Piontek, the head of the Minneapolis Police Department's internal affairs unit.
"I originally had a lot of faith in the Gang Strike Force, but it's sad that it lost its way," said Harrington. "I'm disappointed the Strike Force allowed a culture to permeate that these actions could go unchecked, that it could happen in the state of Minnesota where we have strong law enforcement."
Harrington said in an interview that two of his officers face serious allegations, including one accused of selling seized property. Four other St. Paul officers are accused of procedural violations, he said.
Harrington cautioned that "these are just allegations" and that the investigations against the officers haven't been completed.
Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said his department was informed by Luger and Campion that seven of his officers assigned to the Strike Force were involved in several allegations of misconduct. Dolan also said in an interview that some officers who were involved in allegations were supervisors.
Asked about the quality of officers the Minneapolis department assigned to the Strike Force, Dolan said: "We didn't send low-level performers to the Strike Force. It was a competitive process."
Dolan said in a statement that he was disappointed at the scope and serious nature of the allegations.
None of the names of the suspected Strike Force members has been made public by Luger or Campion. Luger and retired FBI Special Agent John Egelhof were appointed by Campion to head a panel to investigate the force.
Luger issued his findings Aug. 20, telling a news conference that officers had taken home property seized by Strike Force members. He said taking the property for their personal use constituted criminal activity and said 10 or 12 officers engaged in the wrongdoing.
In 2008, 37 officers and supervisors from 16 law enforcement agencies were assigned to the Strike Force, including 10 from the Minneapolis police, six from the St. Paul police, and six from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.
Strike Force operations were suspended May 20 by Hennepin County Capt. Chris Omodt, who became commander of the force in January with a mission to clean up the unit as accusations were beginning to swirl. Campion permanently shut it down July 17.
Harrington said one of his accused officers is a sergeant, but said the allegation against him is for a procedural violation. The retired officer hasn't been with the department for about a year, he said.
He said he was deeply disappointed that any of his officers are facing allegations, but said the FBI is doing the right thing by investigating. He was happy the allegations didn't involve "more people from my shop."
The St. Paul officers were some of the best in his department, several of whom have received or were nominated for the department's highest awards, Harrington said. "That any of them would be involved in any inappropriate behavior is shocking to me and completely out of character for the officers we hire in St. Paul."
Dolan said in an interview that he didn't attend the meeting with Luger and Campion because he had a previously scheduled meeting with members of the Somali community.
Fletcher did not return phone calls, but Holli Drinkwine, his spokeswoman, issued a statement saying Luger's panel said Wednesday "that one Ramsey County deputy may have handled evidence improperly." She said the Sheriff's Office opened an internal affairs investigation of deputy Paul Meskan on Aug. 24, after the release of Luger's report.
"This deputy was not involved in any of the other allegations raised in the Luger report," she said. "He has been reassigned pending the outcome of the investigation."
Also on Wednesday, Andy Skoogman, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Campion has sent a letter to the members of the Minnesota Gang and Drug Oversight Council stating that he is delaying the application process for grants for the seven remaining drug and gang task forces in the seven-county area until there is an effective and economical solution developed for fighting gangs in the Twin Cities.
He told a legislative hearing last week that before a strategy is implemented he would return to the Legislature for approval. Campion believes there are too many task forces targeting the same types of individuals in the metro area, and it is not an efficient use of limited state resources, Skoogman said.
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