A widespread internal investigation found a culture of racism within the Golden Valley Police Department and resistance to anti-racism efforts among the force that saw one termination and the departure of a dozen other officers during the course of the probe.

The investigation was conducted by the Greene Espel Law Firm at the behest of Mayor Shep Harris over allegations of racism and officer misconduct launched nine months ago. It focused on eight officers who allegedly created a "toxic and inappropriate work culture," according to a human resources complaint. Only one of those officers remains with the department.

Harris called for the probe in March while in the midst of hiring the city's first Black chief and while the department was already facing an officer shortage and ongoing conflict over anti-racism efforts outlined in the investigation. The redacted reports of more than 100 pages went live on the city's website late Wednesday, the latest development in a clash between some officers and city leadership championing police reform and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts.

"The independent investigation was necessary to bring clarity to the allegations of misconduct, hold employees accountable, and have a better understanding of the systemic issues that harm community trust in policing," wrote City Manager Tim Cruikshank in a statement. He declined interview requests.

One of the eight officers was terminated for a slew of racist comments, as well as data breaches violating the department's professional conduct policy, the city's respectful workplace policy and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

A city spokesperson said that a dozen officers left during the course of the investigation. The department is budgeted for 31 officers and is now staffed at 19.

As a result of "harmful communication uncovered during the investigation," the city is hosting a listening and healing circle Friday evening led by trained facilitators for the community "to discuss their thoughts and feelings and process the investigation findings," according to a city statement.

The union representing officers did not respond to requests for comment.

Culture of racism

Greene Espel shared with city officials its first investigative memorandum on July 28 regarding officer Kristin Hoefling, who was terminated in August after having been with the department since 2006.

Hoefling's actions "all exhibited a lack of trustworthiness that would tend to discredit" her and according to the report included multiple racist statements, sharing illegally recorded staff meetings and using "a pseudonym [Roni Macready] to engage in unauthorized discussions with members of the public regarding the city's police chief hiring process."

The police union said Hoefling is declining to comment. She also refused to cooperate with the investigation.

It found that Hoefling repeatedly laughed in a staff meeting while discussing inequitable health outcomes of Black women who are more likely to die during childbirth.

"Is this more of a biological issue than a racist issue? I mean, it seems hard-pressed to put racism on it," she said in a recording of the meeting, according to the report.

Later in the meeting, she said Black people "don't work" when watching a video on racial wealth disparities, and she was shown saying an expletive to the moderator while on mute.

An April 2021 meeting between officers and Kiarra Zackery, the city's equity and inclusion coordinator, was illegally recorded by Hoefling, who shared it outside the secure work network. Hoefling shared it from her work emails for "retention purposes" according to a copy of the email, and she wrote that she becomes very upset and swears in the recording a few times.

Zackery previously told the Star Tribune that in the meeting she defined racialized violence and systemic racism in policing "as the disparity or overrepresentation of people of color experiencing all types of harm that can occur during police encounters."

She was asked in the meeting if use of force toward a person of color was always considered racialized violence. Zackery said yes, and she added in an email to the Star Tribune that "some officers vocalized disagreement."

In the meeting, Hoefling threatened to quit, using an expletive, according to the report.

During that same meeting, an unidentified officer typed a message suggesting that systemic racism doesn't exist.

"The statement was offensive and racist because it suggested that the experience of all Black individuals can be generalized based on the privileges that the officer believed a single, specific Black person experienced," the Greene Espel report said.

Following Daunte Wright's killing by a Brooklyn Center police officer in April 2021, Deputy City Manager Kirsten Santelices sent an email offering self-care seminars and group sessions to process the racialized violence that "may be particularly triggering as we near the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death."

An unidentified officer responded to everyone in the email by saying, in part, that "race is not the issue here, noncompliance is. … Please keep your opinions to yourself."

Greene Espel recommends the city reframe its DEI work to better engage with officers on discussions of anti-racism and structural inequalities. The law firm found meetings on these initiatives were scheduled on a reactive basis and as listening sessions that were "ultimately counterproductive, seemed to enhance resistance to concepts regarding systemic racism, and caused further backlash against city management.

"A different approach is needed to foster a more courteous, productive dialogue regarding the city's DEI work and to work toward the elimination of any racial disparities in policing."

Scott Nadeau, a veteran police chief who was serving as Golden Valley's interim chief, previously told the Star Tribune that the way city staff presented and implemented DEI work in the department "wasn't particularly helpful."

Nadeau was a finalist for the permanent chief position but withdrew his candidacy the day after Harris called for the investigation, alleging the hiring process involved intimidation tactics after officers hand-delivered a letter endorsing Nadeau.

Instead, the city hired the other finalist, Virgil Green, who was terminated from his past two chief positions. Hoefling used her work computer and access to databases to find court records for the lawsuits Green filed in both terminations and shared that information with news outlets, city staff and on Facebook using the pseudonym.

The city said in a statement that it will "continue ongoing work to eliminate racist beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors," including work by the recently formed Police Employment, Accountability and Community Engagement (PEACE) Commission, and work on Reimagining Public Safety Program: Reducing Harm Through Collaborative Solutions funded through a Pohlad Foundation grant.

Greene Espel also recommends the city implement a host of trainings on appropriate social media use and Minnesota Government Data Practices to avoid future data breaches.