The case of an ex-Minneapolis police officer accused of stealing drugs went to a federal jury Friday in St. Paul following a nine-day trial in which prosecutors said the defendant made unreasonable searches and seizures and confiscated drugs without reporting them or turning them over to the department.
The jury was given the case shortly before 4 p.m. Friday and met for about 20 minutes before leaving the courthouse, with plans to return Monday morning for deliberations.
Ty Jindra, who was indicted last year, faces 11 felony counts related to eight incidents from September 2017 to October 2019 that were recorded on body cameras worn by him and officers working with him.
Jindra, a slim 29-year-old man with close cropped hair, sat next to his two attorneys and only occasionally conferred with them. He did not testify.
Prosecutors Amber Brennan and Michelle Jones presented evidence accusing Jindra, a patrol officer on the city's North Side, of shaking down drivers and passengers for a range of controlled substances including Tramadol, heroin, methamphetamine, oxycodone and hydrochloride.
Based on body camera video shown at the trial, most of his targets were people of color, with Jindra — who is white — telling them he was giving them a break by not charging them.
"I know he liked to make stops in order to find drugs," said Daniel Payne, an officer sometimes paired with Jindra who testified earlier in the week. Payne, who described himself as a friend of Jindra's, was a witness for the prosecution.
Defense attorneys Peter Wold and Aaron Morrison portrayed Jindra as a proactive police officer who operated in good faith and was eager to get major dealers off the streets. They said he gave breaks to small-time drug users in hopes of gaining information and that he sometimes cut corners and violated department policies in the interest of the public good.
One of the stops, they said, led to information that resulted in a major arrest, though prosecutors disputed that.
The trial began Oct. 12 but was paused three days later when one of the jurors contracted COVID-19. Following a 10-day quarantine, the juror returned and testimony resumed on Monday.
Jindra, who is no longer employed as a police officer, was placed on leave in February 2020 while under federal criminal investigation that had begun the previous fall.
He came to the attention of Minneapolis Police Department officials after being named in three excessive force complaints in a short span of time, sources told the Star Tribune. Department officials reviewed bodycam footage that appeared to show Jindra putting drugs in his personal bag; other video showed him occasionally turning off his body camera, which the defense called normal and the prosecution contended was a way to cover up his actions.
In his closing argument Friday, Wold stressed that Jindra threw away the drugs he confiscated. But Brennan said there was no evidence for that, and that he hid the drugs from the four partners seen on the bodycam video.
Left ambiguous in the testimony was what Jindra did with the drugs.
"Either they prove Ty Jindra is a drug addict or he is not guilty," Wold said. He added that prosecutors offered no evidence of his drug addiction and cited officers who testified they did not believe Jindra was an addict.
Brennan countered that Jindra was "not on trial for being a drug addict." She said he could have used the drugs or sold them, and suggested that while the jury might have an opinion on whether he was addicted, it was not relevant.
During a short discussion before U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank outside the presence of the jury, Brennan said family members were concerned about Jindra's abuse of drugs when he was hospitalized in February 2020, and that in recent years he had overdosed on Xanax, an addictive drug used to treat panic and anxiety disorders.
Among the allegations against Jindra was a traffic stop he made the night of Oct. 13, 2019, when he pulled over four Black males whose car rolled slowly through a North Side intersection without making a complete stop. The driver did not have a license and Jindra handcuffed him, then began searching the vehicle and found a small baggie of what appeared to be marijuana and a small baggie of pills. He confiscated the drugs but no report was ever filed with the department. The grand jury that indicted Jindra said that was an unreasonable search and seizure.
Legal authorities called by the prosecution testified that the law generally bars police from searching for drugs on routine traffic stops if they don't see the drugs in the vehicle or have good cause to search. But Wold noted the car Jindra stopped in October 2019 had pulled up outside a house known for gang activity.
"There isn't one of these cops who testified here who didn't do a search exactly like Ty Jindra did," he said.
In another search on July 24, 2019, Jindra and a partner pulled over an SUV for alleged reckless driving. Jindra found a vial with pills while searching the vehicle, which became the basis for a charge of "surreptitiously separating a portion of oxycodone pills" and then "concealing the separated pills within a plastic glove and stashing them in his personal bags" while logging the remaining pills into evidence.
His bodycam footage shows him pouring the pills out of the vial into his gloved hand, then pouring at least some of them back into the vial. The video shows he kept his gloved hand in a fist, as if there might still be some pills in his hand, and then rolled the glove off his fingers and put the balled-up gloves in his bag.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Jindra signed out 66 pills from the department's property room vault on July 8, 2019, saying that he was taking them to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for analysis. But Allison Hursh, assistant laboratory director of the BCA's forensic science services, testified there was no evidence that the BCA ever received the pills.
During some of the incidents for which he was indicted, Jindra was a field training officer, assigned to grade rookie police officers and demonstrate proper police methods. A National Guard veteran who served in Iraq, Jindra was hired by the Minneapolis police as a community service officer in 2013 and as a regular officer in 2014.
He earned numerous commendations for his police work and was once named Fifth Precinct Officer of the Month after helping disarm a knife-wielding attacker, according to personnel records. He also was the subject of 15 complaints, one of which resulted in him receiving a letter of reprimand.
Jindra comes from a police family. His brother is a Brooklyn Park police officer and his father, Jeff Jindra, retired from the Minneapolis police force in 2015 after a long career in which he received numerous awards. The older Jindra also had his own history of misconduct allegations; in one case, he and a fellow officer were cleared of criminal wrongdoing by federal authorities.
Jeff Jindra was in the courtroom for most of the testimony this week, along with the defendant's wife.
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224