A St. Paul man whose 2014 arrest in a city skyway raised concerns about racial profiling and police use of force settled a lawsuit in federal court this week.
Chris V. Lollie, 29, sought $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from the city of St. Paul, saying his constitutional rights were violated and that police falsified reports. The details of the settlement won’t be made public until it appears on the St. Paul City Council meeting agenda next Thursday. A council vote on whether to sign off on the payment is expected the following week.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Lollie said Friday. “I want to move on with my personal life.”
He said he was hesitant to comment further.
Lollie was sitting in a First National Bank skyway lounge in January 2014 waiting to pick up his children from day care when a security guard told him the space was for tenants. When he refused to leave and allegedly refused arrest, he was subdued by police with a Taser.
He filmed part of his interaction with the officers and posted the five-minute video on YouTube the following August, months after his cellphone was returned to him by police. The video grabbed national attention for the officers’ actions and Lollie’s assertion that he was targeted for sitting in the skyway because he is black. The officers, Lori Hayne, Michael Johnson and Bruce Schmidt, are white.
Lollie’s arrest led Mayor Chris Coleman to ask the city’s Police-Civilian Internal Affairs Review Commission to investigate. Police Chief Thomas Smith defended his officers’ actions when the YouTube video was posted, but said he welcomed the scrutiny, and pledged that the process would be “very transparent.”
The commission cleared the officers of improper procedure and excessive use of force. The mayor’s office, the Police Department and City Council President Russ Stark referred requests for comment to City Attorney Sammy Clark.
“Because several things need to be finalized, I’m not prepared to comment on the settlement at this time,” Clark said.
Since Clark started as city attorney in April, the largest settlement involving a police suit has been $75,000. In 2012, the City Council approved a $400,000 settlement in a federal lawsuit alleging that police beat a mother and son during a search of their apartment for cocaine. The city of Minneapolis has paid out more than $6 million in alleged cases of police misconduct since 2012.
One of Lollie’s attorneys, Paul Applebaum, said his client looks forward to moving on with his family and focusing on his musical career. When U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson denied the city’s request to dismiss the suit last week and set a trial date for March 22, “negotiations for a deal became more serious,” he said.
“Because the case has hot-button issues, it’s possible a City Council member could vote against the settlement for their own ideological reasons,” he said.
According to Lollie’s video, Hayne questioned him about his identity as he walked through the skyway. He declined to identify himself, noting that it was within his rights since he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Lollie’s suit said he did not physically resist the officers but was held against a wall and tasered until he “fell screaming to the ground.”
In court documents, the city argued that the suit should be dismissed because the officer’s use of force wasn’t excessive, they had reasonable suspicions to stop Lollie for trespassing and were protected by qualified immunity against any liability. The judge disagreed with several of the points, saying that there were enough disputed facts by both sides that a trial was necessary.
Mark Ross, treasurer of St. Paul’s police federation, said the three officers have an outstanding reputation within the department and that they did everything right in Lollie’s case. If people are just compliant and do what officers ask, it almost always ends well, he said.
“For the officers’ sake and their families, I’m glad it’s over with,” he said. “It’s unfortunate they were put through this.”
Ross said it’s still unclear what parts of a skyway are public or private. When officers respond because a security guard says somebody is trespassing, “that’s all we really need,” he said.
The incident has had some positive impact, said Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul NAACP. A requested audit of the review commission will hopefully lead to a variety of changes by the city attorney’s office by next month, he said.
“For the commission to say the officers did nothing wrong with all that evidence was really disheartening,” he said. “We don’t have to demonize these officers to have change. I think the current chief wants to go out on a positive note and leave the next chief with things to build upon.”