Five high-ranking black officers sued the Minneapolis Police Department and its chief Monday over allegations of systemic racial discrimination and a hostile working environment.
Within the past year, two of the officers, Lt. Don Harris and Lt. Lee Edwards, were demoted by Chief Tim Dolan. Harris had been one of the department's three deputy chiefs, and Edwards was in charge of the city's Fourth Precinct, which encompasses north Minneapolis. A third black lieutenant not named in the suit has also been demoted by Dolan.
The lawsuit caps a contentious week in which Sgt. Charles Adams was transferred out of the homicide unit, according to Dolan, for a series of insubordination incidents. That included contradicting his supervisor in a Star Tribune article about the motive surrounding the death of bicyclist Mark Loesch. Adams is one of the officers suing the department.
He has never been disciplined in his career, and the Minneapolis Police Federation is in the process of filing a grievance on Adams' behalf.
The federal suit alleges that Minneapolis has a long history of discriminatory conduct against black officers and that these actions have become more institutionalized since Dolan became chief.
Several black officers met with the director of the city's civil rights department in September to voice their concerns, but the director dismissed the allegations and later publicly said these were "disgruntled cops near the end of their careers," the suit said.
The other officers named in the suit are Lt. Medaria Arradondo and Sgt. Dennis Hamilton. Each of the officers in the suit has an average of about 20 years with the department.
In a statement, Dolan said that it would be inappropriate to comment on the suit but that he is committed to building and retaining a diverse police force reflecting the city's population.
Impact on city, police foreseen
News of the suit swept through City Hall.
"This is huge. These are officers who are saying they do not have confidence in the Police Department," said Council Member Ralph Remington, who was the only council member to vote against Dolan becoming chief. "That should be a big red flag to every City Council member and the mayor. We're mandated to get to the bottom of this."
Council Member Don Samuels, chair of the City Council's Public Safety Committee, said in response, "I cannot afford to have a knee-jerk reaction in favor of the complaint, nor a defensive posture in defense of it."
Remington said the police department needs "unifying and healing leadership instead of one that is divisive and inflicts pain."
Lt. John Delmonico, head of the Police Federation, said he agreed with Remington's view on leadership but said it's too early to tell how the suit is playing out among the rank-and-file police officers.
"Whenever there are lawsuits involving the Police Department, it can affect policing," Delmonico said. "These are serious allegations going back a long period of time, and it puts into question the way things are getting done."
Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson said they take discrimination charges very seriously but "are confident in Chief Dolan's ability to lead the Police Department and his efforts to diversify."
Members of the Police Community Relations Council held a news conference Monday to discuss the 38-page suit.
Council co-chairman Clyde Bellecourt said the group, a federally mandated panel that has successfully brought officers and minority group leaders together on many police issues, will meet Wednesday to talk about any action it might take in response.
Spike Moss, a member of the Community Relations Council, said the group should call for the department to be placed in receivership, meaning another agency would be in charge. He called Minneapolis the most racist city in America.
"We can't take any more of this nonsense," he said.
Relations Council co-chairman Ron Edwards said officers who met with civil rights director Michael Jordan in September have faced retaliation in the department. The suit said Dolan wouldn't consider Arradondo for promotion after he filed a complaint.
'It's high time for change'
The officers' attorney, John Klassen of Minneapolis, said Monday that his clients would not comment.
However, Klassen, who is representing them with attorney Andrew Mueller, added: "This lawsuit will change the landscape of the Police Department and the city of Minneapolis. And it's high time for change."
It's not the first time Klassen has represented city workers who have sued Minneapolis. He represented three of four firefighters who sued the city and former Fire Chief Bonnie Bleskachek, whom they accused of hindering their careers, last year. All of the suits were settled.
Klassen is also representing Minneapolis police Sgt. Giovanni Veliz, who is suing the city on similar discrimination allegations.
The only black officer with a rank higher than lieutenant is Deputy Chief Valerie Wurster, who was appointed by Bill McManus, Dolan's predecessor. About 18 percent of the department are officers of color.
The suit claims that black officers received fewer training, detail and overtime opportunities as well as fewer appointments to key units than white officers. It also claims that the department has failed in several areas of diversity required by a mediation agreement brokered with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The suit details patterns of alleged discrimination involving each of the five officers. Arradondo, head of the Fourth Precinct's community response team, was refused overtime pay for the key role he played with critical incidents, the suit alleges. Harris, a Fourth Precinct investigator, was passed over for appointments in favor of white officers, the suit said.
While several white homicide officers received more than 150 hours of overtime during the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, Adams was never informed of the overtime opportunities until the last days of the detail, the suit said. Hamilton was fired for misconduct that for some white officers resulted in a lower level of discipline, the suit said.
Lee Edwards, former head of the homicide unit and an inspector, was demoted after he was accused of driving a department vehicle while intoxicated and making offensive comments to subordinates, the suit said. A white lieutenant with a lengthy history of civil rights violations replaced Edwards temporarily when he was demoted, the suit said.
Remington said he has heard complaints from black officers since he took office nearly two years ago. It appears the officers had no other recourse, he said.
"I was fearful of precisely this type of action occurring," Remington said. "I tried to make my colleagues and the mayor aware of these concerns through the public hearing and confirmation process."