A former Minneapolis police trainee who was fired two years ago has sued the department, saying he was singled out for harassment because of his age and Japanese heritage, with one of his coworkers openly questioning whether he intended to commit “hara-kiri,” or ritual suicide.
Andrew Arashiba, 50, who was dismissed from the force in October 2017, contends that he was routinely humiliated because he was much older than almost every other cadet, and faced retaliation after he reported the harassment to his superiors. In his lawsuit, he argues that he was fired for missteps that the department regularly overlooked when they involved female, Somali-American and African-American officers.
In addition to losing out on untold income, the suit claimed that he “suffered noneconomic damages, including humiliation and embarrassment from being subjected to race, color, and national origin-based harassment on the job and ultimate discharge because of his Japanese-American race and ancestry.”
The City of Minneapolis is the only defendant named in the suit, filed last week in U.S. District Court. It seeks at least $75,000 in damages.
Arashiba says in the suit that he was put on administrative leave in the spring of 2017, after lodging complaints with Human Resources and the internal affairs unit. He never returned to duty, and was fired that October — less than a month before his probationary period was up, according to the lawsuit.
Under department rules, probationary officers can be dismissed for “failing to meet minimum performance standards or probationary training standards for violations of the code of conduct or for any other legal reason” and have no right to appeal, unless they are veterans.
Arashiba’s lawyer, Peter Nickitas, said Monday his client wants his job back and any income that he would have earned after being put on leave.
“My client is a good man, and he’s a good law enforcement officer,” Nickitas said of Arashiba, who now runs an auto body shop in Savage.
A police spokesman on Monday said he couldn’t discuss pending litigation, referring questions to the Minneapolis city attorney’s office, which declined to comment. A call to the Police Federation went unreturned.
Arashiba joined the force as a community service officer in January 2016 and was sworn in 11 months later, becoming the department’s only Japanese-American officer, the lawsuit said. He was 46 at the time.
Like all rookie cops, Arashiba began serving a monthslong probationary period, during which he was assigned to ride along with a veteran officer to guide and evaluate him until he was deemed ready to work on his own.
While not named as co-defendants, the suit accuses several of his field training officers of creating a hostile work environment by routinely making disparaging comments about his age and his job performance, including one time in which officer Michael Mays allegedly chastised him for refusing to slap a drunk man during an arrest in north Minneapolis, saying, “You missed a free slap.”
In another episode that was detailed in the suit, Arashiba said he overheard a coworker discussing his frustration with an apparent mistake Arashiba had made on the job with officer Heather Sterzinger.
“What, is he going to commit hara-kiri?” Sterzinger asked, repeating the question twice, according to the lawsuit. The term refers to a ritualized form of self-disembowelment that is typically associated with Japan, the suit says.
“Plaintiff did not react, but took it as an obvious insult to his Japanese ancestry, origin, and racial heritage by a superior officer,” it read.
Meanwhile, Arashiba claims, he regularly received higher marks from other training officers.
Arashiba’s performance evaluations were not immediately available, making it impossible to independently verify the lawsuit’s claims.
His experience, the suit contends, stood in stark contrast to the department’s treatment of Mays, who is African-American, and former officer Mohamed Noor, who is Somali. Noor was fired and later convicted of murder for the 2017 shooting death of Justine Damond Ruszczyk, while Mays is the subject of a lawsuit filed against the city and police department over an incident two summers ago where he shot and injured two service dogs while responding to a home burglary alarm.
According to Arashiba’s suit, the city overlooked the two officers’ “professional shortcomings” until it was no longer “objectively or politically possible to coddle them any longer.” This, the lawsuit said, “while imposing degrading treatment, lower performance ratings, and ultimate discharge of Arashiba, in spite of his objectively satisfactory performance as a probationary police officer.”