The Minnesota Supreme Court has agreed to review a lawsuit alleging elected officials in Minneapolis violated their charter by failing to keep the number of sworn police officers above a minimum threshold.
In the latest in a case that has ping-ponged through Minnesota's legal system over the past year, Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea issued an order Tuesday saying the state's highest court will hear oral arguments on June 9.
"The Supreme Court made the right decision to take this case, which is so important to the safety of the people of Minneapolis," said James Dickey, attorney for the Upper Midwest Law Center, which filed the lawsuit, in a written statement. "We look forward to bringing our strong arguments to the Supreme Court and obtaining reinstatement of the order for Minneapolis to restore the police force and comply with the City Charter."
The case arises from a group of North Siders — including Don Samuels, who announced a congressional campaign last month — filing a petition alleging Mayor Jacob Frey had failed in his obligation to employ at least 0.0017 employees of the police force per resident, amounting to 743 officers based on 2020 data, as police officers have left Minneapolis en masse over the past two years.
A Hennepin County judge sided with Samuels and the law center last year, ordering the city to comply by June 2022.
But a Minnesota Court of Appeals panel reversed the ruling last month.
There's no debate that the city fell below that standard stated in the charter, which is akin to a city's constitution. In April 2021, the Minneapolis Police Department employed 651 active sworn officers, despite the City Council providing funding for 888, according to Court of Appeals Judge Jeanne M. Cochran, who authored last month's decision.
But Cochran said the charter only requires the City Council to fund a minimum staffing level — and it does not mandate the mayor continuously employ that number of officers. Rather, Frey's duty to maintain police staffing levels is "discretionary," meaning he has latitude to use his own judgment, according to the appeals court.
Frey, who has opposed measures to defund the Police Department, has since held three academies and recalled community service officers in a push to replenish staffing numbers, Cochran noted.
"The city of Minneapolis believes that the Court of Appeals was correct in overturning the District Court's grant of the Writ of Mandamus," said Minneapolis City Attorney Jim Rowader in a statement. "The city looks forward to obtaining an opinion from the Supreme Court that confirms its interpretation of the charter and of the limited nature of the Writ of Mandamus."
Gildea's order requires the Upper Midwest Law Center and Minneapolis residents who brought the petition to file their first brief by May 3. Frey and the City Council must respond by May 17. The court also granted the Police Officers' Federation of Minneapolis' request to file a "friend of the court," brief which is due May 10.