The Chaska Police Department has fired a 14-year veteran of its force following an investigation of citizens’ complaints about racial and ethnic profiling.
In a news release Friday, the department said it had removed Officer Joshua Lawrenz from the force following “a complex and extensive investigation.”
In a separate release Tuesday, the department said it had begun a search for a new police officer.
Lawrenz could not be reached for comment. Law Enforcement Labor Services, the union that represents Chaska police officers, said in a statement Tuesday that it believes “there was no just cause for the termination,” and has filed a grievance on Lawrenz’s behalf.
“Officer Lawrenz is highly decorated and well-regarded in the community,” the statement said. The union said Lawrenz has no previous discipline in his file.
Lawrenz had been on paid administrative leave since September after members of the city’s Latino community met with Police Chief Scott Knight to air their complaints. They also came to a City Council meeting to voice concerns about possible racial profiling and were told the city would conduct an investigation.
City officials initially thought the investigation by a private legal consultant would take about a month. It took much longer, Knight said in the news release, because it “involved many interviews and review of a great deal of data.” Knight declined to disclose details of the investigation, citing the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.
Several Latino residents addressed the council at the meeting last September, including one elderly man who said Lawrenz handcuffed him and threw him to the ground while arresting him.
Another resident, Natalie Lopez, told the council that Lawrenz sat in his car at the end of her block for several days before stopping her as she backed her car out of her driveway to pick up her son at day care. She said Lawrenz gave her a ticket for not having a driver’s license, telling her he wanted to send all people without licenses back to Mexico.
Lopez said he had asked her if she had her immigration papers with her. When she told him no, she said he told her he could arrest her on the spot.
“I don’t think he has the right to ask me if I’m legal here,” said Lopez, who told the council she has lived in Chaska for five years.
On another occasion, Lopez said Lawrenz confronted her as she returned home from work, arresting her and taking her to jail.
She told the council Lawrenz refused when she asked if she could get her medication for type 2 diabetes from her vehicle. She said the jail staff tested her blood sugar level and took care of her.
“I hope you guys do something,” Lopez told the council. “I’m sorry, but please help us.”