A Minneapolis police officer has been fired from the department two years after he and his partner were caught on camera beating a handcuffed American Indian man, while the other officer involved is fighting to keep his job.
Last week, police Chief Medaria Arradondo terminated officer Alexander Brown who, along with his former partner Peter Brazeau, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the December 2016 incident. Arradondo has also tried to fire Brazeau, but due to the officer's military veteran status, he is entitled to a hearing before any dismissal action is taken.
The firing stemmed from a 2016 episode in which Brazeau and Brown pummeled a man who was handcuffed and lying on the ground in downtown Minneapolis. An internal review panel found their use of force was excessive and recommended that the officers be disciplined.
The two were ordered to undergo extra training after the incident, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. But they returned to street duty soon thereafter and continued working for nearly a year until Arradondo decided to fire them.
Sources say the beating incident came to the attention of Internal Affairs investigators sometime in 2017 and was presented for criminal charges to St. Paul prosecutors, because of a conflict of interest, but no charges were brought.
Attempts to reach the police union were unsuccessful on Monday, and a spokeswoman for the St. Paul City attorney's office didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
John Elder, a Minneapolis police spokesman, on Monday confirmed that Brown was no longer with the department and Brazeau was on administrative leave. But he said he couldn't comment further on the matter due to human resource laws.
According to a police report, Brazeau and Brown encountered the apparently intoxicated man shortly after bar-close near where Nicollet Mall meets S. 4th Street and tried to arrest him for disorderly conduct. But after being handcuffed, the man began flailing on the ground and kicked Brazeau in the chest, dislodging the officer's body camera, sources say. The officers began punching and kicking the man while his hands were bound behind his back, leaving him badly injured, according to the sources.
The man, who was 37 at the time of the incident, was later released without charges.
After someone in the department lodged a complaint, the incident was considered by a department review board, made up of police and civilian representatives, which determined that the officers' actions violated department policy and recommended discipline. Surveillance video of the encounter proved crucial to the board's decision, sources said.
As early as last March, the case was forwarded to the chief, who has final say on all disciplinary issues.
In the meantime, the officers were placed on desk duty and ordered to go through "remedial" use-of-force training, but were later allowed to return to work in the First Precinct. They continued working until last week.
Minneapolis City Councilman Steve Fletcher, who represents downtown, said that while he wasn't familiar with the case, he was willing to give Arradondo the benefit of the doubt as to why he waited so long to fire the officers.
"He's working on culture change; sometimes that takes time and I understand that swift, harsh discipline is not always the way to make culture change happen," said Fletcher, who sits on the public safety committee. "I know the [Police Conduct Oversight Commission] raised some concerns about a backlog of discipline cases, so it's something that they're looking at."
But, he added, that past failure to hold officers accountable for on-the-job behavior has eaten away at public trust. "It's very, very important that there be consequence when people misuse the power that we give them," he said.
Brown can appeal to get his job back, a path that was made easier by a recent state Supreme Court ruling that overturned the firing of a Richfield cop who struck a Twin Cities teenager and failed to document it.
Brazeau has also requested a veteran's preference hearing to try to overturn his termination, leaving him in bureaucratic limbo where he is on home assignment, but still collecting his officer's salary.
In 2016, both officers received the department's Lifesaving Award: Brazeau for helping rescue a suicidal woman who was threatening to jump off a bridge, and Brown after reviving a 5-month-old baby who had stopped breathing. Brown was also awarded the Chief's Award of Merit.
But both have also faced numerous civilian complaints.
While the case has garnered little attention outside the American Indian community, it has turned into a rallying point for residents who have long complained of police heavy-handedness, according to James Cross, a longtime activist and founder of the street outreach group Natives Against Heroin.
"People have to really start looking at us as human beings," Cross said Monday. "When situations like this come up and nothing is done and things get overlooked, of course we don't have good relationships with the police."