A St. Paul police officer accused in a federal lawsuit of excessive force is a former Minneapolis cop who was involved in brutality cases in the 1990s that wound up costing that city nearly $600,000.
The officer, Sgt. Paul Cottingham, and officer Craig Rhode are being sued, along with the city of St. Paul, for alleged excessive force, battery and assault during the 2010 arrest of James Newbill, a 32-year-old Twin Cities man who has since changed his name to Ras Yirehmiel Tafari.
The St. Paul City Council soon will hold a closed-door meeting to discuss the case, and a U.S. magistrate will oversee a settlement conference April 4 at the federal courthouse in downtown St. Paul.
Tafari is seeking damages of more than $1 million.
“This is a case that should settle because the liability is clear, the damages are clear ... This is a pretty cut-and-dry constitutional violation,” said Tafari’s attorney, Andrew Irlbeck.
City Attorney Sara Grewing declined to comment. The city denies in court documents that the officers violated Tafari’s constitutional rights and says that he is primarily responsible for his “alleged injuries and any damages.”
Cottingham and Rhode were working on the narcotics/vice unit on Aug. 17, 2010, when they came upon a suspected drug deal in a church parking lot near the State Capitol.
According to the complaint, the officers rushed Tafari “without giving any commands or instructions” and he fled to the front of the church, which was locked.
As he raised his hands, the complaint says, Cottingham used a Taser gun on him, causing him to fall to the steps. Rhode kicked Tarafel in the face, knocking him out, according to the complaint.
The officers handcuffed Tarafel and took him to Regions Hospital, where he spent three days in the intensive care unit.
According to the complaint, his broken jaw needed wiring for nearly three months and he wore a neck brace for nearly four months because of broken vertebrae. Oral surgery was required to repair his teeth and cuts to his mouth.
Tarafel eventually pleaded guilty to possession of a small amount of marijuana. A charge of fleeing police was dismissed.
In 1996, Cottingham, now 47, was at the center of a $500,000 settlement approved by the Minneapolis City Council, at that time the largest police brutality deal in the city’s history.
A man alleged that Cottingham and another officer beat him severely after a highway chase, knocking him out. The man was legally drunk at the time.
The year before, a federal jury decided that Minneapolis should pay $87,500 to two men who said that Cottingham and another officer had used excessive force during an arrest they made while off-duty.
And in 1994, a man alleged that Cottingham used unreasonable deadly force in shooting him three times in the leg when he fled after a traffic violation.
Minneapolis police fired Cottingham in 1995. He acquired military and other law enforcement experience, including with the Leech Lake tribal police in Cass Lake, Minn., before St. Paul police hired him in 2005, police spokesman Howie Padilla said.
Personnel records show he was orally disciplined in 2006 for a preventable accident and has received several commendations. He works in the crimes against persons/sex crimes unit.
Rhode, 42, joined the St. Paul police in 1997 and works with the Central force. He has been disciplined five times for violating department policy and a preventable accident, and has received numerous commendations.