A Hennepin County district judge Thursday dismissed a lawsuit by two prominent Minneapolis police officers who claimed they were unjustly transferred by former Chief Tim Dolan at the urging of incoming Chief Janeé Harteau.
Lt. Andy Smith and Sgt. Patrick King had alleged their 2011 transfer out of the department's Violent Offender Task Force was in retaliation for their 2007 investigation into corruption within the department.
But Hennepin District Judge Philip Carruthers ruled the two men failed to prove retaliation. Nor could they be considered whistleblowers, because investigating corruption was part of their assigned responsibility, the judge ruled.
The court decision was a significant victory for Harteau, who is expected to be confirmed as chief by the City Council on Friday and sworn in at a ceremony on Tuesday. She testified during the civil trial, defending her decision to transfer the officers because they had lost the confidence of federal prosecutors.
"I'm pleased with the court's decision, and I had complete confidence in the city's position," Harteau said in a statement Thursday. "While this was a complicated case, I had faith that the courts would sift through all the facts and make the right ruling."
Patrick Burns, attorney for King and Smith, said he disagreed with Carruthers' decision but respected it. "We are weighing our appeal options," he said.
Burns had asked the city for a payout of $1.5 million in the suit, much of it for the large amounts of overtime the two officers would no longer receive in their new assignments and $500,000 for damage to their reputation. Under Carruthers' decision, the two will get nothing.
Even as he rejected their claims, the judge praised Smith and King as "exemplary police officers."
Smith and King had been asked by Dolan to probe corruption involving police officers in the department and they testified they were subjected to abuse by other officers. That included the hanging of a giant toy rat in their office.
As a result of the probe, former Minneapolis officer Mike Roberts went to federal prison for a year for public corruption and tax evasion.
Afterward, Dolan provided Smith and King with a letter stating that their work could result in retaliation.
But Carruthers wrote that "If anyone was in a position to not retaliate and protect (Smith and King) it was Chief Dolan," yet it was Dolan who made the decision to transfer the officers.
Dolan testified that he was approached by Harteau and Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher. They told him federal prosecutors no longer trusted Smith and King and would not collaborate with the two men, who were working on a joint police-FBI task force.
Dolan was also given a memorandum, prepared by Gerlicher, laying out alleged wrongdoings by the two officers including concerns about large amounts of overtime they had incurred.
Dolan ordered the two officers relieved of duty, then reinstated them several hours later and transferred them.
At the trial, Harteau distanced herself from Gerlicher's memo, agreeing with Burns, under cross examination, that some of the claims were "innuendo."
But Carruthers said Gerlicher, who oversaw the department budget, had a right to be concerned about overtime, and the officers had not proved Gerlicher had motive to retaliate.
Still, Carruthers said, he believed that Smith and King "are outstanding officers who had not committed violations of police policy and had done nothing illegal or dishonest. The court believes that relieving them of duty was unfair and undeserved as acknowledged in retrospect by Dolan."
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224