The Minnesota Department of Human Rights on Thursday concluded that there is probable cause to find that the Brooklyn Center Police Department and Michaels Stores Inc. discriminated against a Black teenager when Michaels management called officers who then arrested the boy without cause.
The boy, then 16, walked into the Michaels craft store on Shingle Creek Crossing on March 19, 2019, to apply for a job, but was instead met with "unjustified and unreasonable" use of force by Brooklyn Center police after the Michaels store manager called them, according to the Department of Human Rights.
Following a nearly two-year investigation, the department determined that what happened that day was a violation of state civil rights law on three counts: the Brooklyn Center Police Department discriminated against him because of his race, Michaels denied him access to the store because of his race, and, lastly, Michaels failed to hire him because of his race. The findings come as the Police Department has attracted national scrutiny after one of its white officers killed an unarmed 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in April. The former officer, Kim Potter, is scheduled to stand trial this fall.
"No Black child should ever have to plead for their life from police," Rebecca Lucero, the Department of Human Rights commissioner, said in a statement announcing the department's finding. "What happened to this kid is a clear violation of his dignity and his civil rights. We can and must do better, especially when it comes to kids."
While inside Michaels, the boy behaved like a "typical customer," according to surveillance footage reviewed by the Department of Human Rights, yet a white store manager called the police on him twice for "creating a disturbance."
The manager reported to 911 that he was a Black kid with dreadlocks, wearing a black coat and "going through the store, playing with the balls, throwing stuff up in the air, knocking stuff off shelves."
He was asked to leave and voluntarily walked out. Then, frustrated because he believed he was kicked out due to his race, the boy attempted to re-enter the store, but the manager and another employee blocked him at the vestibule.
When the manager called 911 a second time, she reported that the "tyrant customer" had returned to the store, was "hostile" and was starting to "touch" her employees.
Three white police officers arrived. Two of them threw the boy to the ground, pulled him by his dreadlocks, put a knee into his back and handcuffed him, based on body camera footage.
"Don't kill me, I want to grow up," the boy said while face down on the ground.
The police charged him with disorderly conduct, trespassing and obstructing the legal process. The charges were eventually dismissed, but he was banned from Michaels for a year.
It was the scariest day of his life, the teenager, who was not identified, said in a statement. "Police were called because of my skin color and they abused me to the point I thought I was going to die," he said. "No human should fear the police when we are taught that they are protectors."
Having only recently been notified of the Department of Human Rights' findings, Brooklyn Center City Manager Reginald Edwards said, "We will review the information and determine the appropriate next steps."
A Michaels spokesperson said the company disagrees with the investigation's conclusion of discrimination and plans to appeal.
In their written reports and interviews about the incident, the Department of Human Rights found, the officers attempted to justify their use of force with statements that contradicted body camera footage. The officers claimed that the approximately 100-pound, 5-foot-tall teenager was a flight risk and that he aggressively resisted arrest. One officer said the teenager disobeyed a command to place his hands behind his back. That officer's claim, which he wrote in a report, was false, the Department of Human Rights found.
As for the Michaels manager who called 911, store employees told the Department of Human Rights that she had a history of racially profiling Black customers.
Given the findings, the Department of Human Rights said it will seek structural change through a conciliated settlement agreement with the Police Department and Michaels Stores. It will also seek monetary relief for the teenager.
Christina Saint Louis • 612-673-4668