A Minneapolis police officer who served as an anonymous source for a GQ magazine article criticizing the department's "toxic culture" was later reprimanded for speaking to the press without permission, according to disciplinary records.
The records show that officer Colleen Ryan received a letter of reprimand on Dec. 2 after an investigation that began with a tip to the department's ethics hotline.
"As Chief of Police I am responsible for providing clear expectations on what is acceptable behavior in our workplaces as well as what will not be tolerated," MPD Chief Medaria Arradondo wrote in his decision to discipline Ryan. "Officer Ryan by our department policy should have contacted and sought permission from our MPD [public information officer] prior to engaging in the interview with the journalist," Arradondo wrote.
Ryan was identified publicly in the document posted on the city's website. The disciplinary records, which include cases against four other officers, were released Friday in response to an earlier court order from an ongoing human rights investigation of the department that was launched after George Floyd's death.
The case stems from a June 10 article, titled "A Minneapolis Police Officer Opens Up About the Toxic Culture Inside the Department," in which Ryan was quoted under the pseudonym "Megan Jones," describing herself as a "liberal feminist" who is "something of an outcast." She criticized what she described as the MPD's "toxic" culture of discouraging officers from calling out colleagues' bad behavior.
"I want better for my department and I wish it didn't take the murder of George Floyd for this national conversation on police reform to be had," she was quoted as saying, adding that her position as an officer afforded her "a unique perspective on the system that enabled the murder of Floyd."
According to the disciplinary record, Ryan contacted the story's author, Laura Bassett, via Twitter while gathering information for her master's project.
The investigation found that Ryan agreed to be quoted for the story, but on the condition of anonymity, because officers are prohibited from talking to journalists without prior permission.
Bassett later tweeted that she received a call from someone with the department asking her to divulge her source.
"This is extremely Trump-like," she wrote. "Maybe spend those resources investigating why your officers kill Black people?"
After being interviewed by investigators, Ryan admitted to being interviewed for the story and expressed regret for the "bad press the article generated for the Minneapolis Police Department," the records show.
Ryan hasn't in the past shied away from sharing her views publicly, writing in an op-ed for the Star Tribune last year that she was in strong favor of stronger gun laws. In the piece, she identified herself as a police officer and a board member for Protect Minnesota, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for gun-safety measures. In a statement released Friday, the organization said it stood behind Ryan, citing her "strength and willingness to address that we need intentional change."
Under department policy, most requests for interviews and other press inquiries are funneled through the public information officer, officials say, to prevent most officers from releasing potentially sensitive information. In practice, the ban on talking to journalists is often used to stifle information that could paint the department in a bad light, experts say.
Much like corporate America, image-conscious police departments began hiring public relations staff to get their message out as law enforcement became professionalized in recent decades, according to media critic David Brauer.
"As a citizen, I am just really glad that somebody breached the blue wall of silence. I mean the big problem we have in this city is we can't separate the cops who want to do good and want to do good stuff internally, from the cops who want to fight stuff," said Brauer, a retired longtime journalist who last worked as a media critic for the MinnPost news site. "As a citizen, I want to know if there's a toxic culture within the department."
The department's media policy hardened during the tenure of Arradondo's predecessor, Janeé Harteau, who was accused of withdrawing a job offer after then-senior commander Eddie Frizell was quoted in the Star Tribune that he was "dismayed" with his demotion. Frizell is now Metro Transit police chief.
While Arradondo has had a more cordial relationship with the local press, he has also disciplined officers for speaking to the media, including demoting his own chief of staff Art Knight after Knight's comments in a Star Tribune article last fall prompted an internal backlash.
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064