What began as a routine trip to the grocery store for Londel French turned into a tense encounter with a Minneapolis police sergeant, who referred to him as “simple” and briefly reached for his gun, without drawing it.
Now, the Minneapolis Park Board commissioner said he hopes that others will learn from the incident, which French recorded with his phone and posted to Facebook. It is now under a department internal investigation.
“My big concern is that this is getting a lot of attention because I’m a park commissioner, but what if I was just a regular Joe Schmoe?” French said. “I believe this is an opportunity to educate folks, folks in the community.”
French, 45, was driving through the parking lot of the Cub Foods on W. Broadway when he spotted two Minneapolis police officers searching a white pickup truck parked at the back of the lot. Thinking nothing of it, he pulled over and started watching the officers, an instinct honed in his previous life as a community activist, he says.
Within minutes, he says he was approached by a third officer, identified in the video as Sgt. Tyrone Barze, who motioned for him to roll down his window. When he refused, Barze became “perturbed” and demanded to know why he was there, French said.
Only then, he says, did he pull out his phone and start recording.
‘Don’t be simple’
After a tense back-and-forth, Barze told him that he had no good reason for being there and, after French protested, instructed him not to “be simple,” according to the recording.
“Did you really tell me, ‘Don’t be simple?’ ” French is heard asking, while laughing incredulously.
“I’ll say it three times if it makes you feel better — stop being simple,” said Barze, whose voice never rises.
French is later shown getting out of his truck and walking over to the other officers, demanding that a supervisor be called to the scene, as Barze follows him silently and appears to obstruct his view. At one point, Barze is seen instructing French to keep his hands out of his pockets, while resting his hand on his sidearm, without unholstering it. French denies he was reaching into his pockets, saying that his keys were in his hands.
Posted on Facebook
French later posted two videos of the encounter on his personal Facebook page, where they have since been viewed more than 8,000 times combined, and garnered hundreds of likes, comments and shares.
The caption reads, in part: “Just another day of being black.” Both men are black.
In an interview Wednesday, he described Barze’s behavior — which he called “very obtuse and very abrasive and very adversarial” — as all the more alarming when officers know that their actions are being scrutinized as never before.
“And this is one of the examples of that,” he said. “If you think people are simple, then that’s the way you’re going to treat people.”
French, who in 2017 won one of the Park Board’s three at-large seats, was among those commissioners who pushed for park police officers to start wearing body cameras to record their interactions with the public.
Complaints and honors
Barze, who was promoted to sergeant in 2017, has been dogged by citizen complaints, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement payments. He has also been recognized for bravery on the job, once helping save the life of a 2-year-old who was choking after swallowing a dime.
Four hours after the videos surfaced Tuesday, a police spokeswoman said the department was launching an internal investigation into the incident.
“The MPD has been made aware of this incident which is now under internal review,” Sgt. Darcy Horn said via text message. “We will not be able to comment further at this time.”
Calls to Imani Jaafar, director of the Office of Police Conduct Review, and the police union went unreturned Wednesday afternoon.