A jury has awarded $125,000 to a St. Louis Park man who alleged in a federal lawsuit that an off-duty Minneapolis police officer challenged him to a fight at a bar, then knocked him out, leaving him with a concussion.
Jeremy Axel, an IT salesman, spent the night at Hennepin County Medical Center after his encounter Nov. 4, 2011, with officer Michael Griffin. The jury dismissed two other claims Axel brought against Griffin and another officer in the case.
Griffin, a seven-year veteran of the force, was awarded the Medal of Valor last year for being among the first officers on the scene of the Accent Signage shooting.
The officer is also the subject of a second, pending lawsuit stemming from a similar incident on May 29, 2010, when he got into an argument with a man while off duty outside a downtown bar, followed the man down the sidewalk before catching up to him and knocking him out.
That incident, captured in a series of surveillance photographs, shows bystanders trying to intervene as Griffin and the other man face each other.
The Minneapolis police union did not immediately comment on the Axel case. A Police Department spokesman said Griffin remains under an internal affairs investigation over the case and declined to comment.
According to Axel’s suit: He and two friends were at a table at the Loop Bar and Restaurant, 606 Washington Av. N., when they asked Griffin, dressed in civilian clothes, to move so that Axel could join his friends. The request set off an argument between Griffin and Axel’s group. Griffin then showed his badge to the bar’s security guard and told Axel and his friends he was going to “call his boys to come [expletive] you up.” Axel and his friends were not aware that Griffin was a police officer.
Axel and his friends shouted back at Griffin, and both sides were arguing loudly and using profanity, said Paul Applebaum, Axel’s attorney. Eventually Axel and his friends, feeling their night was ruined, paid their check and left the bar. Griffin followed them, making threats, the suit claimed.
Axel got into a cab, but two of his friends were stopped by Minneapolis police officer William Gregory, who arrived at the scene in a squad car.
The suit said Axel saw Griffin hitting one of his friends and stepped out of the cab to check on his friend. Griffin then punched Axel in the head, the suit said, knocking him out.
Griffin then picked up the unconscious Axel and kicked him in the face, according to the suit. One of his friends, on the phone with a dispatcher, requested a paramedic.
Axel, who does not have a criminal record, had a concussion, had to have several teeth replaced and lost three to four days of work, his attorney said.
The incident was not captured on video. Applebaum said the officer’s squad car video was not activated, although his research of the officer’s squad car found that it recorded video and audio that night from incidents before and after Griffin’s encounter with Axel and his friends.
The lawsuit made three claims against Griffin, for excessive force, battery and false imprisonment. The jury agreed with Axel that excessive force was used against him, awarding $125,000. The jury ruled in favor of officers Griffin and Gregory in the other claims.
The other lawsuit has been brought by Ibrahim Regai. It alleges that Regai got into an argument with Griffin outside Aqua Nightclub and then walked away. An employee of Envy nightclub, Regai rang the doorbell to the club, which was closed for the night, and then turned around to face Griffin, who had followed him to the Envy entrance.
Regai said in his suit he didn’t want to fight, but Griffin swung at him and knocked him out. Griffin then summoned a nearby Minneapolis police officer and had Regai arrested for assault on a police officer.
The charge was later dropped.