A Minnesota working group on police use of deadly force is expected to get underway next month as part of an effort to help officers and lawmakers grapple with a spate of fatal encounters sparking community protests, lawsuits and a re-examination of law enforcement practices nationwide.
Announced Monday amid intense scrutiny over a series of high-profile police shootings in the Twin Cities and other major cities, the 16-person group will convene three public hearings to generate a report recommending a series of policy changes by February 2020, when the Minnesota Legislature convenes a new session.
Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Attorney General Keith Ellison will co-chair the group, which includes law enforcement leaders, academics and community members, including Clarence Castile, whose nephew Philando Castile was killed during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights in 2016.
"It is an honor to be able to bring something to this table … to try to do something positive for our community," said Castile, who is also a citizen representative on the state's Police Officer Standards and Training Board. "The community and cops working together, rebuilding trust and legitimacy — that's what we need to do."
The new working group's first meeting, on Aug. 17, will examine topics of investigation, oversight and accountability and is expected to take place in or around the Capitol. A second hearing, set for Sept. 28, will consider prevention, training, officer wellness and community healing and a third, on Oct. 17, will focus on policy and legal implications.
Locations have not been announced, but the Twin Cities metro, St. Cloud, Mankato and Rochester have been discussed as possible meeting sites. Each hearing will consist of three to four panels of up to four witnesses to testify on the respective themes.
"As a cop for 40 years, I learned early on that the time to create a partnership wasn't in the middle of a crisis," Harrington told reporters Monday. "And having moved into the Department of Public Safety, I also recognized that the time to discuss deadly force encounters is not when one is occurring."
Plans for the working group have been under discussion since Harrington and Ellison took office in January.
According to the Department of Public Safety, there have been 101 officer-involved shootings in Minnesota since 2014 that caused death or injury. Both Harrington and Ellison said they planned to continue working with law enforcement and the public on best practices and community engagement well beyond the final report's publication — including adjusting policies for the state's law enforcement agencies as needed.
The working group's launch coincides with a renewed focus on the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the agency that investigates officer-involved shootings. The BCA was sharply criticized for its handling of the July 2017 killing of Justine Ruszczyk Damond by former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor. Noor is now serving a 12 ½ year prison sentence after being convicted this spring of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
At trial, Hennepin County prosecutors presented evidence suggesting that agents treated police with greater deference than civilians, that investigators posed leading questions in interviews with Noor's supervisor, and that key evidence was mishandled.
BCA Superintendent Drew Evans was not named to the working group. But Harrington, whose department oversees the bureau, said his voice would speak for the agency and that Evans will testify at one of the meetings.
The working group also includes Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo; Elizer Darris, an organizer with the ACLU of Minnesota; Corcoran Director of Public Safety Matt Gottschalk; state Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis; state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria; Hennepin County Judge Mark Kappelhoff; Brittany Lewis of the University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs; Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Director Brian Peters; St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin; Chanda Smith Baker, senior vice president of community impact for the Minneapolis Foundation; Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson; and Artika Tyner, director of the Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.
A tribal law enforcement representative also will be named to the group after an initial appointee withdrew because of schedule conflicts.
"I think our presence here today as community, law enforcement, prosecution, everybody signals an attitudinal shift that we cannot keep going from crisis to crisis to crisis," Ellison said Monday. "We've got to take a look at this and figure out what we're going to do together in a way that ensures all parties concerned that there will be fairness, that there will be transparency, that there will be a degree of expedition in the way we handle these things."