The day after Minneapolis police announced they would abandon the practice of small-scale marijuana busts, Jacob Aikens still hadn’t heard about it.
Instead, Aikens, 21, was contemplating three more years of probation and a felony on his record — all for selling one bag of marijuana for $20 or $30 that he said he would have smoked himself if a white woman hadn’t approached him on Hennepin Avenue in February to buy it from him.
The next thing he knew, four police surrounded him in front of the library. On Monday, he pleaded guilty, and until informed by a reporter, he didn’t know that his arrest was part of a pattern targeting black people that has caused a civic uproar.
“It’s kind of ridiculous,” he said. “There are people dying of fentanyl and meth and I get a felony for a small amount of weed. I feel like it’s racial profiling and it’s unacceptable.”
On Friday, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office said it had dismissed charges against 31 people arrested in the sting operations but must still decide how to deal with 16 other people, Aikens apparently among them, who have already been convicted.
“We want to make sure there was not something unusual about those cases,” said Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “But clearly, from the actions we have taken this week, we are very likely to allow the dismissals of those cases as well.”
Aikens said he is on probation that was to end in March for a juvenile assault but now faces the prospect of 19 months in prison if he violates terms of the three-year probation connected to the marijuana arrest.
The decision by Freeman to dismiss the charges was announced Thursday, shortly after Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo held a news conference where he said he was discontinuing the stings on instructions from Mayor Jacob Frey.
Frey acted after receiving complaints from Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty, whose lawyers became alarmed at the large number of felony arrests of blacks in downtown Minneapolis in January for selling small amounts of marijuana to undercover police officers.
“I am obviously pleased they are dismissing the cases,” she said. “It would have been better had they not charged them in the first place. Many of these clients were held in jail.”
Her office has begun filing motions to vacate the convictions of the other 16. “I would certainly expect that the county attorney’s office would join in that motion,” she said.
Moriarty said she hopes prosecutors will join motions by her office to expunge the 47 arrests and charges “because even though the cases are dismissed, having an arrest and charge on their records will create problems for employment and rental housing.”
Laszewski said there were no discussions in the county attorney’s office on Friday on the matter of expungement.
Others arrested in the sting operations spoke out against the practice on Friday.
“I feel it is bogus, crazy,” said Erica Flournoy, 30, of Minneapolis, who was arrested on May 24 and accused of selling 3.88 grams of marijuana for $50. She said that in court, she was told she must undergo treatment, but she wondered why she was being charged in the first place.
“They are locking up all these blacks,” she said. “What about the white people who are doing it?”
Approached on street
Davonte Adams said he was standing with a group of people on Hennepin Avenue on April 11 when a white woman walked up and said to no one in particular that she was looking for some “loud,” street slang for marijuana. He didn’t know it then, but she was an undercover officer.
“I had a little bit of weed, that I was actually going to smoke, but I decided to sell it,” Adams, 22, said.
Moments after he handed over what amounted to about 3.2 grams of pot, several officers showed up, and he said he instinctively began to run.
“They just threw me down,” he said. “I already had my hands up, they just threw me to the floor, though.”
Adams was placed into a diversion program to avoid incarceration, but the case has since been dismissed.
A few hours earlier, officers arrested Lynette Johnson, 43, as she walked out of a tobacco shop. She said she was arrested because, unbeknown to her, a friend had gone around the corner and sold some marijuana.
“Here I am, I’m actually going to jail for something that’s a misdemeanor that I’m supposed to get a ticket for,” she said, referring to the officers’ claims that she smelled of marijuana. Her case was dismissed.
Many of the arrests were made by members of the downtown Community Response Team, which like its counterparts in other precincts is tasked with combating drug and gun crimes.
Police spokesman John Elder on Friday credited the stings with helping drive down crime in downtown recently.
“We have made strides in crime reduction downtown — nobody wants to see that removed or changed,” he said.
But the stings drew criticisms from several City Council members and community members.
“It was a waste of resources,” said Jeremiah Ellison, a Fifth Ward council member. He said the decision by Frey and Arradondo to end the stings was a good one, but he was “disappointed” that the county attorney’s office “was not willing to lead on dismissing the charges, but I am glad they followed suit.”
Third Ward Council Member Steve Fletcher said the stings had never been discussed in the council’s public safety committee on which he sits or in meetings in his ward.
“It doesn’t speak very well of our county prosecution that until [it was publicly in the news], we were throwing heavy charges at these guys.”
Longtime civil rights activist Ron Edwards called on the City Council to form a committee of inquiry to find out how the sting operation occurred.
“This is clearly a dark cloud over the city of Minneapolis, which prides itself on fairness and liberalism,” he said.