Six years after the scandal-ridden Metro Gang Strike Force settled a $3 million class-action lawsuit, a key requirement of that agreement has yet to be realized.
The settlement called for creation of a training course for law enforcement to address such issues as civil rights, racial and ethnic sensitivity and seizure procedures so the misbehavior of the now-defunct unit would not be repeated.
A panel was created in 2013 to develop the course. But three years later, there is still no program and the nature of the proposed educational training has been altered. More than $214,000 has been spent on the project so far, about half of it for an executive director who retired last September.
Randy Hopper, the attorney who filed the lawsuit against the Strike Force, said last week he was “surprised and disappointed to learn that the educational component has never been implemented.”
Those who have been working to develop the course — a three-person panel and both its first and second executive directors — say they have made progress. The project has included networking with law enforcement and colleges across the state. The curriculum, now being envisioned as an online course, should be available in the fall or winter.
“It’s a ton of work to put together a project like this,” said Joseph Flynn, the attorney who represented the Strike Force in the lawsuit.
But Joseph Daly, emeritus professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law, said it took only six to seven weeks for him to create a course on constitutional law theory and practice for his students.
“It seems to me to design a course for police — both involving theory and practice — should never, ever take three-plus years,” he said.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who became a staunch critic of the Strike Force, also expressed dismay.
“To take three years and still not have [the course] developed is disappointing,” he said. His department develops courses, he said, and “if we were to do this it would take a couple months to get it done.”
The Strike Force, comprising law enforcement personnel from about a dozen jurisdictions, was shut down in 2009.
After the lawsuit was settled in 2010, about $1 million was dispensed to Strike Force victims. After expenses to date, $1,560,000 remains in the training fund.
About $114,000 has been paid to Neil Melton, the first executive director in charge of the training program. He was planning a five-day, 40-hour classroom program. In the meantime, black men died at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore. Events in those cities prompted a decision to revise the curriculum, said Melton, who retired in September after working on the plans for 14 months.
As for the length of time creating the courses, he said, “The court wanted it done properly. Time was not the issue.”
Strike Force attorney Flynn praised Melton, who had previously headed the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training Board.
“There was a lot of reaching out to law enforcement,” Flynn said. “He did a lot of networking, working through the state college systems which gave us a lot more venues.”
Minnesota Appeals Court Judge Kevin Ross, one of three people named to the panel to develop and implement the curriculum, said he wants it to be efficient, challenging, inspirational and focused on “Constitution-based” policing.
“It’s taken some time to develop it,” Ross said. “I am no expert on how long it takes to get this running.”
The two other members of the panel, Rob Boe, public safety project coordinator for the League of Minnesota Cities, and Israel Reyes, a Florida lawyer and former judge, did not return calls for comment. While Boe and Ross have donated their time to work on the course, Reyes has been paid $57,475, compensation allowed by the settlement.
Shift to online class
J. Gordon Rudd, Jr., managing partner of Zimmerman Reed, the firm that has handled the lawsuit for the Strike Force victims, said the defendants and the panel are responsible for developing the training program. He said there were two setbacks: the original training plan was too costly and not effective, and Melton retired.
“I do believe the new director, Lora Setter, is working to get the training program implemented that will be effective,” he said.
On June 14, Flynn wrote to U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen, who oversaw the settlement, with an update, noting that the training program has now been shifted from in-class lessons to an online course. William Everett, a law enforcement educator, has been hired to “develop the substance” of it. Everett’s firm has so far been paid $28,072.
Setter, the new executive director, has so far submitted bills of $9,727. She said she has never spoken to Melton, but said it was unnecessary because he left extensive files.
She said it was decided to make it an online course to make it available to all officers.
“We are excited about launching the training,” she said. “I think it is going to be impactful.”