The Metro Transit police officer recorded slamming a young Minneapolis man to the ground during a recent arrest was identified Thursday as one who was named Officer of the Year for 2014.
Metro Transit reversed its initial decision and identified Daniel Wallace as the officer who arrested Draon Armstrong on July 8. The name was released just hours before Armstrong spoke about his arrest at a Thursday night news conference.
The agency’s decision followed a Star Tribune report Thursday that suggested the department had legal grounds to withhold the officer’s name because of an exception in Minnesota’s public records law. But after further review by Metro Transit counsel, the department said an overlooked advisory opinion permitted it to disclose the name.
“The names of officers who arrest people, respond to requests for service and so forth are always public under various subdivisions [of] Minnesota statutes,” Don Gemberling, a Minnesota Coalition on Government Information member, said in an e-mail.
In October 2010, Metro Transit police hired Wallace, and he became a full-time officer seven months later. In April, he shared the department’s highest honor, Metro Transit’s Officer of the Year, with another officer for their patrol work in downtown St. Paul.
According to Metro Transit, Wallace has not received an internal affairs complaint during his tenure.
Nonetheless, the Minneapolis NAACP this week called for the department to “reform racist police practices.” At Thursday’s news conference, President Nekima Levy-Pounds called for an independent investigation into the arrest.
Standing beside his father, Armstrong told reporters he regretted not paying the $1.75 light-rail fare, which led to his arrest. But he insisted he did not provoke the treatment he received. “I let him arrest me,” he said. “I didn’t try to run or anything like that. So for them to say I wasn’t complying with the officer, I feel the officer already had a grudge against me.”
Wallace’s forceful handling of Armstrong drew criticism following the public release of a cellphone recording of the July 8 arrest at the Target Field light-rail station. It showed Wallace throwing Armstrong, who was handcuffed, to the ground after he appeared to notice movement on the part of the 21-year-old.
The names of two other officers present at the arrest, Bret Fraser and John Steele, also were released Thursday. Following an internal review this week that found no clear violation occurred, the department will pursue an independent review that is expected to take at least several weeks to complete, said Drew Kerr, a transit spokesman.
“Metro Transit will respond to the review’s findings with appropriate action,” said Kerr, who added that no formal complaint prompting an internal affairs investigation had been made.
On Wednesday, Armstrong is scheduled to be arraigned in Hennepin County District Court on charges of fare evasion and obstructing a legal process, both misdemeanors.
Between Jan. 1 and June 30, transit police conducted 950,000 light-rail fare inspections, according to department data released this week. Fewer than 8,000 fare violations, or 0.8 percent, were reported in that period.
Over the past three years, the number of transit officers has increased from about 114 full- and part-time officers to a total of 200 who randomly check trains and platforms to verify passengers have paid their fares. Failure to pay can result in a warning or $180 fine.