The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a split decision Tuesday that broadens what Minneapolis must disclose about the status of complaints against police officers.
An attorney representing a watchdog group argued that the decision largely supports disclosure of the status of a citizen's complaint. City Attorney Susan Segal said her office is studying the decision and will present it to city officials.
"It considerably expands the amount of information the public gets to learn about how complaints are processed against Minneapolis police officers," said attorney Mark Anfinson.
He represented Communities United Against Police Brutality. The group sued when the city in 2007 limited disclosure of data by the Civilian Review Authority (CRA), a city agency that investigates complaints and refers them to the Police Department for potential discipline. The city obtained an advisory opinion from the state Department of Administration that some information about the status of a complaint shouldn't be disclosed, because it reveals something about the complaint's nature, which is private until final discipline is imposed.
Both sides appealed a lower court ruling, with the Police Officers Federation, the union representing police, joining the city. A three-judge panel of the appeals court reversed the lower court in declaring that when the CRA does not sustain a complaint, the city should release that information.
But the panel agreed with the lower court that the city need not disclose that a complaint is sustained, because that's not final discipline. However, Anfinson said the public, by getting to know when a complaint isn't sustained, will be able to deduce when one has been.
"We got most of what we wanted," said Michelle Gross, president of Communities United. Segal said the ruling represented "a slightly different tack" from the state's advice and the district court.
The appeals court said that a citizen needs to know that a complaint has been rejected in order to request reconsideration of that decision.
It reversed the lower court in ruling such requests must be public. It also affirmed that referral of a sustained complaint to the police chief is public.
The review authority received 468 citizen complaints last year, but sustained only 15 after some were judged not credible, complainants didn't follow up on others, and still others were resolved through mediation.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438