The defunct Metro Gang Strike Force extorted cash and property from seven Twin Cities residents and violated their constitutional protections against search and seizure, lawyers charged in a lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court.

The suit, which the plaintiffs seek to have declared a class action, names as defendants the Strike Force, all the officers who served on it, and the law enforcement officials who make up its advisory board.

Minneapolis, St. Paul, and nine other cities or counties that supplied officers to the Strike Force will be served notice today and named as additional defendants in the case, said Robert Hopper, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys.

The Strike Force was permanently shut down July 17 by state Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion, following months of allegations about mismanagement and improper seizures of money and property by the multi-jurisdictional antigang unit.

Hopper said Thursday that the Strike Force had "run amok." He added that, "Essentially, what this case is about is institutional malfeasance. It's about the government that is charged under our system of justice ... to protect citizens' constitutional and civil rights."

He said none of the plaintiffs had criminal records and none was involved in drugs or gangs. He asserted that although the Strike Force seized their money and property, none of them had been charged with a crime. "They are innocent victims," he said.

Among the named defendants are West St. Paul Police Chief Bud Shaver, chairman of the Force's advisory board. The lawyers notified news organizations of the suit late Thursday afternoon, and Shaver could not be reached for a response.

The suit says the Strike Force targeted "vulnerable aliens" by calling the Minneapolis impound lot to ask if there were any "Mexicans" there attempting to pick up vehicles.

The suit said Strike Force officers showed up at the lot, searched people, took their cash and vehicles, and sent them on their way without a receipt for the seized property. The suit also claims that on many occasions the Strike Force called officers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service to expedite the "removal" of aliens, precluding them from seeking legal redress and reacquiring their property.

The suit alleges Strike Force officers repeatedly took cash and property from people's homes, even though it was neither contraband nor evidence, and then did not document the items they seized.

The plaintiffs include five Hispanics from Minneapolis and Crystal who said they lost cash and property in three separate seizures, and a white couple from St. Paul, from whom Strike Force officers allegedly took $7,500 in property and jewelry. The alleged seizures occurred in 2008 and 2009.

The Strike Force is under investigation by both the FBI and a separate panel created by Campion. The panel is expected to issue a report next month, while the FBI has declined comment on its inquiry, other than to say it's ongoing.

Randy Furst • 612-673-7382