Mayor Jacob Frey failed to implement the city's emergency protocols when responding to protests and riots that erupted across Minneapolis after George Floyd's murder, according to a long-anticipated report released Tuesday.
The 86-page report by Maryland-based risk management firm Hillard Heintze, whose research staff includes former law enforcement officers, details a breakdown in communications and planning that left residents feeling abandoned and city employees — including police — confused about who was in charge.
The report paints a damning picture of the 10 days in May 2020 that continue to traumatize many residents and employees nearly two years later: Some first responders, receiving little guidance from supervisors, traveled blindly into dangerous situations. Police made inconsistent decisions about when to use controversial munitions on crowds. Neighbors and business owners, frustrated by a lack of communication from city leaders, banded together to protect their homes and businesses.
Minneapolis has an emergency operations plan that is "well written, comprehensive and consistent with nationally recognized practices," the report said. But, it said, the mayor did not "ensure the appropriate implementation" of that plan, hampering the city's response.
"Even though the level of protest and violence was unprecedented, better planning, organization, communication and adherence to command-and-control principles by the MPD [Minneapolis Police Department] and city officials would have led to a better response," the report said.
Frey said in a statement Tuesday night that he has asked city staff to create a plan for implementing the report's roughly two dozen recommendations. The report suggests a range of changes aimed at strengthening and practicing emergency protocols proactively, improving communications among city employees, boosting police training on controversial crowd control tactics and improving employees' wellness programs.
"Trainings are underway, new structures are being put in place," the mayor said, "and we are in routine contact with multi-jurisdictional partners to enhance communications and operational preparedness."
A video of a Minneapolis police officer pinning Floyd's neck to the pavement with his knee for more than 9 minutes on May 25, 2020, prompted global protests that sometimes devolved into looting and arson. In the Twin Cities, at least two deaths were reported. More than 1,500 businesses reported an estimated $500 million in damages.
According to the report, unnamed "field personnel" believed that "in the first two days of the protest and unrest, MPD leadership, and presumably the City, attempted to keep the incident low profile and did not request additional resources." Police leaders, whom the report did not name, declined requests for help and "as a result, officers lost faith and trust in leadership."
The day after Floyd's death, police began using rubber bullets and "chemical irritants" on crowds outside the Third Precinct. Poor communication, exacerbated by frustration with the competency of command staff, resulted in an uneven police response that officers throughout the ranks agreed "did not go well."
"There was a vast, vast void in consistent rules of engagement and control" regarding use of chemical munitions and less-lethal rounds," Chad McGinty, one of the report's researchers, told council members in a public meeting Tuesday.
The report said researchers could not find clear evidence that officers told people to disperse before firing. The report's authors wrote that they could not accurately account for all the munitions used "due in large part to the lack of accountability and supervisory oversight for munitions and officer deployment, leaving the question of the early use of any impact rounds unanswered."
According to the report, the "first planned meeting of MPD leadership, including inspectors and commanders" took place at noon May 27 — a day and a half after Floyd's killing.
"Much to the dismay of some with whom we spoke, no plan or definitive actions were provided or discussed and, most importantly, no command structure was designated," the report said. "After having seen violence occur across the city the day before, command-level officers left the meeting on May 27 not knowing who was in command or the MPD's plan or objectives."
Frey has said that on that night, after receiving a call from then-Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, he contacted Gov. Tim Walz to ask for assistance from the Minnesota National Guard. In the hours that followed, city and state leaders debated how much detail they needed to know to deploy troops. The city's initial requests, the report said, did not follow the typical protocols for requesting such assistance and didn't provide crucial details needed to get soldiers involved.
"Had the Mayor or the MPD consulted the [city's Office of Emergency Management], the OEM could have assisted with a more detailed request and potentially minimized the delay in deployment," the report said.
The city ultimately asked the Guard to protect firefighters and help protect swaths of the city that it deemed crucial. Early in the unrest, the Minneapolis Fire Department [MFD] did not ask other agencies for assistance because unspecified leaders thought it would be "fruitless" since there was "insufficient protection to support the existing MFD personnel," according to the report.
The report said "executive leadership" tried to recall firefighters the first night but struggled to access their mass communication system "because of password issues."
"As an alternative, they established a manual call tree, but by the time they implemented the plan, it was getting close to shift change, so they discontinued the process."
Fire Department leaders eventually used a "task force response model that was unfamiliar to many of the firefighters," resulting in uneven workloads and contributing to exhaustion, the report said.
"Many MFD personnel sat in firehouses across the city, in some cases observing a nearby fire that they could engage, while the personnel assigned to the task force actively worked fires for most of their 24-hour shift," the report said.
The report, which cost the city nearly $230,000, is based on 2,400 documents, interviews with 90 government workers and community members, and about 30 hours of body-camera footage. It said that "despite our best efforts and numerous requests, directly and through identified sources, we found few line officers and community or activist groups willing to speak with us directly."
Robert Boehmer, who also worked on the report, said researchers reached out to people working at other agencies, but many declined to participate because the response is "a really hot political topic."
Walz told reporters Tuesday that he had not yet seen the report but that state-level officials are working on their own, similar review.
The report's contents had been closely guarded — prompting complaints among activists and council members — and were released for the first time Tuesday during a meeting of the Council's Committee of the Whole.
Interim City Coordinator Heather Johnston told council members that staff are developing a plan to implement the report's recommendations and expect to give a public update in about a month. She said quarterly updates will follow
"There is trauma. There is pain, and a lot of questions about what we will do next," said Council Member Jason Chavez, whose ward includes the intersection where Floyd died and parts of Lake Street that were most heavily damaged by the riots.
Chavez added: "What we do next is what's going to matter at this point forward."
Staff writers Stephen Montemayor and Abby Simons contributed to this report.