The city of Minneapolis will pay $170,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who suffered severe burns when a police officer threw a flash-bang grenade that landed in the man's car last March.
Jerrod Burt alleged in his federal suit that he was injured when the stun device penetrated the car's window and detonated against his body as he sat in the driver's seat. A friend who was sitting next to him was unharmed, the suit alleges, but Burt was left with second- and third-degree burns to his right arm and chest.
"The city offered us some money, because they felt obligated to offer our client something, because of the circumstances of being a Black man in a car, not wanted in a crime, who was never charged with a crime — he didn't do anything wrong," said Steve Meshbesher, one of Burt's two attorneys. Meshbesher said that his client's burns have healed, but the emotional scars left by the experience will last for years.
Burt initially sought $6 million in damages, but the two sides settled on the $170,000 payment, which was signed off on by the City Council last week.
The encounter began on March 2 in the area of 1100 Van White Memorial Blvd. on the city's North Side. The suit says that police targeted the car because they were pursuing Burt's friend, who was in the passenger seat, in connection with some nonviolent drug charges. As a group of SWAT officers approached the vehicle, one of them, Dustin Schwarze, launched a flash-bang at the car, which shattered the glass and detonated inside, according to the lawsuit.
Burt was removed from the car and was later taken to an area hospital for treatment. He was never charged with a crime.
Not only did the police not find anything illegal inside the vehicle, the lawsuit contends, but in throwing a flash-bang into a car officers violated the department's own policy on the devices' use. Furthermore, it says, a search warrant filed in the case didn't mention Burt or his vehicle, nor authorize "the unannounced entry of any other residence or vehicle."
Shortly after the incident, the Office of Police Conduct Review, which investigates complaints of misconduct, opened an inquiry and a veteran detective who took part in the operation was reassigned to another unit.
An MPD spokesman on Tuesday confirmed that the department had launched its own use of force review, but said he did not know its status as of Tuesday afternoon. He declined further comment.
Schwarze was involved in the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark in 2015, which became a watershed event in the city's history after protesters occupied a north Minneapolis police station for more than two weeks. He and his then-police partner, Mark Ringgenberg, were both cleared of any criminal or civil wrongdoing by separate state and federal investigations.
Flash-bangs emit deafening booms and bright flashes meant to momentarily disorient suspects, allowing officers to keep the element of surprise while carrying out potentially dangerous operations. But the devices, also known as concussion or stun grenades, have fallen out of favor with some departments after a series of costly settlements. In one such incident in Minneapolis in 2010, a woman sued the department after one of the devices burned the flesh off her leg during a botched drug raid.
The city later agreed to pay her $1 million to keep the matter out of court.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany