The decision by Minneapolis police Lt. Amelia Huffman to remove Sgt. Charlie Adams from the homicide unit had nothing to do with his ability to solve murders, at which he has proved unusually good.

No, he was punished for deviating from the official spin in a brutal murder and letting decency come before bureaucracy.

You can't allow decency to ruin a police department.

Adams got into trouble by reaching out to the family of a murder victim who was smeared by police superiors.

Mark Loesch, a 40-year-old father of four, went for a bicycle ride the night of Sept. 12 and died the next day after being found, badly beaten, on Elliot Avenue S.

His murder was the kind that makes city officials nervous: a random killing that might make the city look like a place you can get killed taking your bike for a spin.

I hate to break it to you, but Minneapolis is a place where you can get murdered while out for a ride. Or walking home wearing a cool basketball jersey. Or on the town with your family or your fiancée. Or doing your homework at the dining room table when a bullet comes through the window.

Do random murders happen? Yes. Not as often as in a lot of other big cities maybe, but one is all it takes to wreck your family.

Over the past few years, as street killings were rising, the city and police have tried hard to get ahead of the curve. And it seems to be working: Crime, including murder, has throttled back. This is good.

Not so good is that the city -- going back to Mayor R.T. Rybak's 2005 claim that you don't have to worry about crime unless you are involved in "high-risk lifestyles" -- has gotten into the habit of blaming victims to minimize fears. The drill is: First you get murdered, then you get besmirched.

That's what happened to Mark Loesch.

After Adams helped arrest a suspect in Loesch's murder, higher police officials kicked dirt on his name.

Lt. Huffman, the new head of homicide, called a news conference and said the suspect had said Loesch was trying to buy drugs when he was killed.

Loesch had no drugs in his system and no wallet, and there was no proof of this claim. But if a suspect said so, it must be true. Right, Lieutenant?

The slur against Loesch had all the importance of the suspect saying he was thinking of getting a Big Mac or the Vikings need a stronger arm at quarterback. It meant nothing.

But it inflicted great pain on Loesch's family, and allowed city officials to breathe a sigh of relief: A father of four had not been killed "at random." He had been clubbed to death by a guy who was unhappy with some unknown aspect of some alleged and unprovable transaction. Feel better now?

It's common for a victim to have his character attacked in a courtroom, when a defendant tries to pin the blame on the demised. But in a court, there is a judge to decide what is admissible, lawyers to cross-examine and a jury to give proper weight to the claims. At the news conference, there was only a suspect's "word" for it.

The suspect was a member of a gang, but the city didn't reveal that. It can be disconcerting to know that gang members are on the street, with bats and guns. That's not good spin.

Mark Loesch was beaten badly again, this time by the city. His family was outraged.

Sgt. Adams and his partner, Sgt. Richard Zimmerman, had made the arrest in Loesch's killing. After Huffman's news conference, they went to Loesch's family and apologized for the words of their superiors. For that act of "insubordination" -- and of basic decency -- Adams was transferred out of homicide.

Another loss to the city.

Adams and Zimmerman were "incredibly professional and honorable in their dealings with us," says David Barnes, father of Loesch's widow. "They were everything you'd expect a great public servant to be. If it hadn't been for them, the Police Department would look like ..."

Yes, it would.

A man is murdered, allegedly by a gang member who just got out of prison. But don't worry about a system that put him back on the street. And don't think too hard about a city that tries to keep the calm by blaming the victims.

The real culprit here has been caught and punished:

He was the cop who solved the murder and then behaved decently to the bereaved.

Nick Coleman •