City leaders in Minneapolis are poised to give retroactive approval to a documentary film crew that shadowed police officers, even though questions remain about whether some of the footage should have been disclosed in court.
A City Council committee on Wednesday recommended approving the contract with New York-based production company Blue Pictures LLC, while lamenting the prior police administration for giving the go-ahead for the project in 2017 without a written agreement.
The vote was delayed after Mary Moriarty, Hennepin County’s chief public defender, raised concerns that the film might include some footage of her clients, which could then possibly be evidence in their cases. After being assured by police that didn’t happen, Moriarty received a letter Tuesday from a city attorney that in fact three of her clients may have been filmed.
“There’s no way of knowing, and there will be no way of every knowing probably, what was actually filmed,” Moriarty said in an interview Wednesday.
Council Member Jeremiah Ellison said he shared many of Moriarty’s concerns. Ellison said he was “shocked” to learn of the informal arrangement, which he called a failure of transparency that could trigger legal entanglements if evidence was captured on film that may be relevant to a court case.
“That feels like quite a breach of accountability,” Ellison said. “That kind of blows my mind.”
The contract approved Wednesday details the legal access arrangement between the filmmakers and Police Department, including giving police the right to review a raw cut of the documentary before it’s released. Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins voted in favor of the contract, joined by council members Alondra Cano, Steve Fletcher, Linea Palmisano and Phillipe Cunningham. Ellison was the sole nay vote.
The contract will go to the full City Council for a vote on final approval next Friday.
Filmmakers Beth Levison and Deirdre Fishel, who traveled to Minneapolis from New York for the meeting, appealed to the committee for its blessing going forward. However, regardless of how the council votes, they said they intend to complete their work.
“We’ve made the film,” said Fishel. “We’re going to put this film out.”
The documentary, tentatively titled “Women in Blue,” will tell the stories of female police in Minneapolis. Fishel said the idea came after police in Staten Island choked Eric Garner to death, stoking conversations over police accountability across the nation. After talking to a female New York City police officer, she found studies showing women officers tend to use less force than their male counterparts. At the same time, women only represent a small fraction of law enforcement in the United States.
“It seemed like an oversight,” said Fishel. “It seemed like something worth exploring — this question of: who are women police officers and what do they bring to the job?”
The filmmakers reached out to Minneapolis police because the department had female leadership at the time, and then-Chief Janeé Harteau agreed to let them follow several officers behind the scenes.
In July 2017, Harteau resigned in the aftermath of officer Mohamed Noor shooting and killing Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an unarmed woman in south Minneapolis. Fishel said Chief Medaria Arradondo, Harteau’s successor, later gave them permission to keep filming and signed a release. Arradondo was not present Wednesday.
Assistant Chief Mike Kjos told the council members he found out about the documentary only when an employee from HCMC called asking why a film crew had been on an emergency scene.
“We had to backtrack to figure out who approved this,” Kjos said.
Several council members expressed support for the purpose of the documentary, some even apologizing to the filmmakers for being pulled into the bureaucratic vortex.
Fletcher said he applauded the police for opening their doors to a film crew. “The thing that MPD should not be commended for is letting this thing come through without getting an agreement in place,” he said.