In the days after rioters took over Minneapolis' Third Precinct in the spring of 2020, police officers on the other side of the city believed their Second Precinct would be targeted.
So the officers shredded a cache of files they believed to be inactive. They loaded the others into an unmarked car and drove to a waterworks facility to hide them until the chaos died down.
This first detailed account of why officers shredded documents, from two Second Precinct officers, appeared in court records in a Hennepin County court case in which the destruction of the files has become a point of contention.
In interviews with Hennepin County prosecutors in July, Officer Logan Johansson and Sgt. Mike Carter described the panic that spread through the police ranks after they watched the Third Precinct burn in unrest following the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
Police removed shotguns from precincts, preparing for the riots to spread, according to a summary of the officers' statements.
Johansson said he'd been told that documents stolen from the Third Precinct were leaked online. He understood that the "stated plan at the time was to abandon the precincts," according to the court documents, which is why he says they removed all the computers and firearms along with the case files.
But not all of the files they shredded turned out to be obsolete.
In a hearing Wednesday, public defender Elizabeth Karp said the officers also destroyed critical evidence related to the case against her client, 36-year-old Walter Power.
Karp is asking the judge to throw out the charges.
Power is charged with first-degree sale of drugs, based on the search of his home, in which police found almost 3,000 oxycodone doses and other illegal substances, according to a criminal complaint.
Some of the information used to obtain the search warrant, such as text messages between Power and another person, was destroyed by the officers, and cellphone data used to track Power has since been lost, according to court records.
"Those officers made that decision," Karp said. "I think what's difficult with this case is we all have to live with that decision."
She said Power is unable to review the evidence that led to the search, which she called a violation of his constitutional rights.
"We're in the dark," she said in court.
If her motion to dismiss is denied, Karp said her client should be granted a hearing that would allow her to call the police officers as witnesses and question them under oath about what happened.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Emily Liebman said the missing documents are immaterial to the charges, and the case should move forward.
She said the evidence that will be presented at trial was all collected in the search of his home, which is not what the officers destroyed.
Police also conducted surveillance and found evidence in Power's trash can that gave them cause for the search, she said.
Judge Todd Fellman said he would make a decision as to whether the case moves forward in the next month.
Details of police destroying files first emerged in court documents related to Power's case earlier this summer.
In a police report made public in the court case, Johansson disclosed that he and other investigators in the Second Precinct decided to destroy documents "in direct response to the abandonment of the Third Police Precinct in Minneapolis by city leadership."
When police evacuated the Third Precinct, they left behind many files that could put the lives of criminal informants and cooperating defendants at risk, Johansson wrote.
"With this in mind, we made the decision to destroy all old or nonactive case files to prevent the leak of sensitive information to non-law enforcement sources should the 2nd Precinct also be abandoned."
The Second Precinct is in northeast Minneapolis, more than 5 miles and across the Mississippi River from the Third Precinct.
Police executed a search warrant on Power's home on April 28, 2020. In order to get a judge to sign off on the search, the officers had cited evidence they'd already gathered through separate warrants to search other residences and cellphones and to collect GPS data.
For the GPS data, the officers issued a warrant to Sprint, which sent updates on Power's longitude and latitude to the investigators.
In March, Johansson informed the courts the warrants were among the documents the officers destroyed. He later reported the GPS records also were gone.
The unit he worked for at the time has since been disbanded to "augment an ever-dwindling number of patrol officers," and the person with access to the data no longer worked there.
"I no longer have access to [the data]," he said.
He included a list of longitude and latitude points in his report but acknowledged this was only what he could find in his e-mail, and it did "not necessarily represent the complete amount of data received initially from Sprint."
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036