DULUTH — Aaron Kirk was arrested in the street in front of his West Duluth home on July 10, 2020, after a road rage incident with the driver of a truck who repeatedly called him a racial slur.

Dashboard camera footage shows an incredulous Kirk in the back seat of Duluth police officer Sara Schultee's car. He tries to wrap his head around how he landed in too-tight handcuffs in a squad car, and she assures him that the other driver was cited.

"He got a citation, and I'm going to jail," Kirk said, and later adds, "I hope this makes your day." The footage was shown to the Star Tribune by Jamey Sharp, a local police accountability advocate, who is working with Kirk.

The arrest is the most serious of the more than 100 interactions between Kirk, who is Black, and local law enforcement since he moved into his West Duluth neighborhood in the mid-2000s, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court. In it, the Kirks accuse Duluth's city leaders and law enforcement officials of ongoing discrimination and profiling "based solely on Aaron Kirk's race, his interracial marriage, and the Kirk family's presence in a predominantly white neighborhood."

The lawsuit lists 12 defendants including the city of Duluth, Police Chief Mike Ceynowa, former Police Chief Gordon Ramsay, human rights commissioner Carl Crawford and the other driver in the 2020 road rage incident.

"Their failures were part and parcel of ongoing discriminatory policies and procedures that deprived the Kirks of their constitutional rights," the complaint states.

The Kirks are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, legal fees and more.

On Monday, a spokeswoman for the city of Duluth declined to comment on the case. A spokeswoman for the Police Department did not respond to an interview request.

The lawsuit hits as the Duluth Police Department is undergoing a racial bias audit conducted by outside consultants from the Crime and Justice Institute in Boston. The ongoing survey, born of a community petition, is looking at police procedures, traffic stop data and perceptions of racial bias and transparency, among other categories.

Dozens of complaints

Amy Kirk, who is white, moved into a three-bedroom house on a corner in West Duluth in 2003 and said she had a friendly relationship with her then-next-door neighbors until Aaron Kirk moved in with her two years later. According to the complaint, the neighbors repeatedly called 911 for "false and baseless accusations." The emergency service calls continued for a decade, with police responding and most often finding the neighbors' complaints unfounded.

According to the complaint: "Defendants took no action to stop the obviously false reports. So, they continued and escalated."

A summary of calls to the Kirks' home given to the Star Tribune in 2020 by the Duluth Police Department shows dozens of complaints by the neighbors about the Kirks' dog barking or growling at their service dog. They called because someone was using a drill — but canceled the call when the noise stopped. They called twice because there was a chemical smell coming from the Kirk's house and they reported it was potentially a methamphetamine lab.

Once they called because they thought Aaron Kirk was going to steal construction supplies.

In 2011, in response to a report of a strong smell of marijuana coming from the Kirks' home, the responding officer notes indicate that there was no smell and no one was home at the Kirks' house.

There was a meeting with city leaders and the Kirks in November 2008, according to the legal complaint, but no action was taken.

Arresting the victim

On June 10, 2020, Schultee's dashboard camera footage shows a truck leaving a West Duluth credit union just as she pulls into the parking lot. Aaron Kirk comes out of the bank waving his arms and directing her toward the departing driver. The man had called him a racial slur and threatened him, Kirk yelled. An unnamed woman approached the police officer and confirmed that the driver of the truck was at fault and that Kirk didn't do anything wrong.

Kirk got in his car and left the bank but was intercepted by police officers in front of his house where his daughters watched him get arrested for fleeing police officers. Grace Kirk, then a teenager, recorded a video on her phone.

"[Police officers] are telling me to back up and I'm screaming and you can hear it in my voice — my voice is breaking," she said. "Not in anger — in fear and terror, like I'm going to lose my dad."

This was soon after George Floyd was murdered; Grace Kirk had those images fresh in her head, she said.

Aaron Kirk was held in the St. Louis County jail over the weekend, and all charges against him — which originally included assault with a deadly weapon and fleeing police officers — were dropped.

"I still don't know why my husband spent four days" in jail, Amy Kirk said.

The same day that Kirk was arrested, Duluth police were called to the scene of an assault on a public trail in the same neighborhood. Conrad Sunde, a local firefighter, knocked down a trail user who asked him to leash his dogs. He was later convicted of third-degree assault, a felony, but served no jail time. This is, Kirk said, a double standard.

Kirk said he feels watched and monitored. He often keeps the curtains closed in their home. It's exhausting, he said, adding that it has affected his mental health and his relationship with this family.

There is real crime going on, Kirk said, but local law enforcement has kept its eyes on him.

"You're out there watching me, and I'm in here watching the game," he said.

Staff writer Jana Hollingsworth contributed to this story.