Minneapolis officials have reached an out-of-court settlement in a lawsuit against police officer Tyrone Barze Jr., whose misconduct cases have cost the city nearly $320,000 over the past two years.
The settlement brings to a close the latest legal entanglement for Barze, part of a federal lawsuit filed last December by Hector Acevedo, who alleges he was beaten unconscious by Barze after leaving a Dinkytown bar on a summer night two years ago.
This week, the City Council's Ways & Means Committee supported a $62,500 settlement for Acevedo. The settlement now awaits the full council's formal approval.
Barze has denied the allegations. The city attorney's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday afternoon.
The lawsuit contended that Barze confronted Acevedo and a group of friends around bar close time on the morning of July 13, 2014, when he intervened in an argument between Acevedo and his former girlfriend. Afterward, the group started recording Barze on their cellphones. Acevedo alleged Barze used unreasonable force when he struck Acevedo without provocation, knocking him to the ground and causing him to lose consciousness.
Charges against Acevedo, who suffered an eye socket fracture, were later dropped, said his attorney Bob Bennett. Bennett added that Barze and his partner confiscated the others' cellphones and deleted videos of the incident. Earlier this month, the department announced that officers would be disciplined for interfering with citizens who record their actions in public.
"A lot of these [cases] are gratuitous uses of violence and they're usually accompanied by the wrecking of cellphones, which has something to do with an officer who doesn't want his behavior to be shown," said Bennett, who's represented plaintiffs in several of the suits against Barze.
Barze has been the subject of at least six other lawsuits alleging excessive force and wrongful arrest since 2012, according to federal court records. Two of the suits were later dismissed, but the city paid $318,772 in settlements over the past two years, records show.
Three of the lawsuits, including the one brought by Acevedo, involved incidents that occurred in a two-month span in the summer of 2014.
In one of the cases, the city awarded $140,000 to a former Patrick Henry High School student who brought a 2012 lawsuit against Barze, contending that he was placed in a choke hold by Barze — then a school resource officer — until he passed out.
Under another agreement approved last spring, the city paid $34,000 to the general manager of a popular Uptown bar to settle a lawsuit that claimed Barze had "unreasonably" pepper-sprayed him during a June 2014 incident.
Barze, who joined the force in 2009, worked as a patrolman between stints as a use-of-force instructor and a member of the department's Community Engagement Team, where he served as a community liaison. Shortly after joining the department, he received a commendation for helping to save the life of a toddler who was choking on a coin.
Department spokesman John Elder on Thursday confirmed that Barze was assigned to the Fifth Precinct, which spans the southwest corner of the city, and was the subject of two open Internal Affairs investigations. He didn't respond to further requests for comment.
Lt. Bob Kroll, head of the union that represents the city's rank-and-file officers, chastised the city attorney's office for "being too quick to settle" misconduct cases out of court.
"I think the city should fight cases, because we're known as an easy mark in that industry," Kroll said. "I think they need to take more things to jury trials and to be more responsible with taxpayer funds."