Minneapolis Civil Rights Director Alberder Gillespie was fired Friday after superiors concluded she "poses an immediate threat" to the city's ability to reform policing in accordance with a court-approved settlement, city records show.

Gillespie's termination was recommended to Mayor Jacob Frey on Friday by City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher, and Frey agreed.

According to city documents obtained by the Star Tribune, Frey wrote in a letter to Gillespie, "As discipline for your actions, I am discharging you from your appointment as Director of Civil Rights, effective immediately."

City spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie told the Star Tribune in an email that City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who oversees the Civil Rights Department, "will serve as interim Civil Rights Director on a short-term basis while we move expeditiously to fill this role."

Attempts to reach Gillespie for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

According to city documents, Gillespie's troubles with her superiors date back to at least late 2023. That's when it became clear that the Office of Police Conduct Review — a division of the Civil Rights Department — was not dealing with complaints of police conduct in a timely manner as part of the city's latest efforts at civilian oversight of police misconduct.

The police review office was failing to update its website intended to keep residents current about complaints against police, the Star Tribune reported in November. The office was struggling to investigate complaints of police misconduct within 180 days — the time frame required under a settlement between the city and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020.

In December, then-Interim City Operations Officer Heather Johnston gave Gillespie a "formal reprimand for insubordination," documents show. The next day, a Civil Rights Department staff member approached Anderson Kelliher, who then began her own investigation.

Memos written by Johnston and Anderson Kelliher paint a picture of Gillespie as uncooperative and obstructionist. According to the memos, Gillespie was refusing to cooperate with attorneys and others inside and outside the city working on a growing backlog of complaints against officers that are supposed to be investigated by the police review office and ultimately the Community Commission on Police Oversight.

By Anderson Kelliher's count, the review office had 297 open cases, including 108 more than a year old. Another 153 cases have not yet gone through an initial stage known as "intake."

The memos also describe a "pattern of blaming and shaming" raised by Civil Rights Department employees, as well as what at least two worker described as "malicious compliance" in working with an attorney embedded in the department.

"The information I have gathered to date not only raises concerns about Director Gillespie's leadership but also makes clear that her continued service as Director poses an immediate threat to the City's ability to fulfill its responsibilities as outlined under the MDHR Settlement Agreement," Anderson Kelliher wrote in a memo to Frey on Friday. "The information I have gathered is leading me, as Director Gillespie's immediate supervisor, to recommend that she be discharged."

Critics 'vindicated'

Critics of the city's new process weren't surprised by the development.

"I feel personally vindicated as member of the CCPO [Community Commission on Police Oversight]," commission member Stacey Gurian-Sherman said. "I have been raising questions about mandatory training, about public engagement, about violations of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law and about the police review panels. I've been raising them since our first meeting in April."

She added: "We see that the [police review office] staff at the ground level are working diligently to support us in our commission work and police review panels. We are not seeing that from city leadership."

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said she was not surprised by Gillespie's dismissal.

"From the beginning, the Office of Police Conduct Review, has been a train wreck," said Gross, whose organization has been critical of the city's oversight of the Police Department for more than two decades. "It's designed to ensure that police are not held accountable."

Gross also sharply criticized review office Director John Jefferson. Friday was Jefferson's last day of employment, a city spokesperson said Friday evening, and he could not be reached for comment. Additional information was not available.

Oversight commission member Fartun Weli, who is also executive director of Isuroon, an organization that helps Somali women and their families, said, "This commission was never designed to be successful. Many, many BIPOC members and advocates have expressed skepticism about this commission."

Latonya Reeves, vice chair of the oversight commission, said she had concerns that information about the case backlog had not been shared with the commission. She also said the data on the commission's website was not up to date. But Reeves, who was appointed by Frey, said she did not have a position on Gillespie's termination.

Asked how Gillespie's firing would affect the commission's work, she said, "I feel confident the city will give us the resources we need to continue to move CCPO business forward. ... We know this is very important to the public."

Gillespie's tenure

As director of the Civil Rights Department, Gillespie was paid an annual salary of nearly $179,000 and oversaw a budget of some $7.3 million and more than 46 full-time employees. She began her tenure in November 2021 and was re-appointed by Frey in 2022. Her term was to expire in 2026.

Previously, she served as the city's 2020 census coordinator and co-founded the group Black Women Rising. Active in Democratic politics for years, she ran unsuccessfully for a Woodbury-based seat in the state House in 2016.

Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.