The conviction and sentencing of disgraced former Minneapolis police officer Christopher Reiter for kicking an arrestee in the face is now in our collective rearview mirror (“Fired Minneapolis officer gets six months in assault,” Dec. 13). So the time seems right to see what it tells us about getting rid of bad cops in Minneapolis.
A review of public records and reportage shows that 2014 was a rough year for Reiter, the Minneapolis Police Department and city taxpayers alike. Early in that year, Reiter and a partner arrived at the front door of Al Flowers, a North Side black activist and recent mayoral candidate, to arrest his teenage daughter on a warrant for having violated electronic home monitoring.
The violation was minor and inadvertent — the child had received permission from home monitoring staff to go to a doctor’s appointment and arrived home later than allowed due to delays at the clinic. Flowers apparently remonstrated with Reiter and his partner, and ended up in the emergency room at Hennepin County Medical Center with injuries inflicted by Reiter.
Minneapolis hired independent counsel to investigate the matter, and he eventually exonerated the city. But Flowers sued anyway, and ended up with a $25,000 civil judgment against Minneapolis. Score — Reiter 1, Minneapolis taxpayers $25,000, plus whatever independent counsel cost us.
Within a couple of months, Reiter found himself working undercover for the sex crimes unit. His job was to go into a massage parlor that was under investigation for being a front for prostitution, solicit sex for money, and then give the signal for the police to rush in and arrest the staff member offering the illegal transaction. All of these things were duly done.
The whole episode was recorded on audiotape. Unfortunately, the tape revealed that 20 minutes elapsed between the time when Reiter and the masseuse reached agreement on the sex act and the price (thereby rendering the crime of prostitution complete), and the time when Reiter gave the bust signal.
What happened during that 20-minute hiatus is unknown. What is known is that defense counsel for the masseuse filed a motion to have the prostitution charge dismissed because whatever Reiter did constituted “outrageous police misconduct.”
In my day, it was a standing joke among criminal defense lawyers to try to imagine what kind of police conduct would be deemed outrageous enough to get a Hennepin County judge to dismiss a prostitution case. None of us knew, because none of us had ever been granted such a dismissal.
The masseuse’s lawyer in the Reiter case got one.
Score — defense counsel 1, Reiter and the cops 0. Minneapolis taxpayers were only out whatever we paid the Minneapolis city attorney’s office to unsuccessfully prosecute a perfectly sound prostitution case that officer Reiter’s conduct botched.
Still later in 2014, Reiter was back on patrol duties when he and his partner found themselves sent to a fight call at a gas station on Lake Street. According to the investigation, 14 seconds after arriving, Reiter was kicking a man in the face. Unfortunately, the man being kicked was the gas station attendant who was trying to break up the fight between the real combatants. The subsequent lawsuit cost Minneapolis taxpayers $105,000.
By the end of 2014, it should have been obvious that Christopher Reiter was an incompetent brute who had no business being a Minneapolis police officer. Yet in the summer of 2016, when he was kicking the face of the arrestee in an incident that became his downfall, he was still on the force.
We don’t know. Police discipline proceedings are private. Whatever the Minneapolis Police Department did or didn’t do as a result of Reiter’s 2014 acts of misconduct is unknown. If the department tried to rid itself of Reiter, the reason it failed is unknown.
This is wrong.
When a cop does this much damage to members of the public, and costs the public this much money, the public has the right to know why he’s still a cop and what flaws in the disciplinary system make it evidently impossible to get rid of him.
Minneapolis will soon have a new mayor and a mostly new City Council. If these folks are serious about improving police-community relations, unraveling the police career of Christopher Reiter would be an excellent place to start.
Richard G. Carlson is a retired assistant Hennepin County public defender.