The director of a city division tasked with investigating civilian complaints against the Minneapolis Police Department resigned in February following an 8-month investigation that substantiated claims he physically intimidated staff, threatened violence and regularly demeaned female employees, according to newly released personnel records.

The city's Human Resource department launched the investigation less than four months after John K. Jefferson, a retired FBI agent, was appointed director of Minneapolis' Office of Police Conduct Review (OPCR).

A seven-page executive summary of that investigation, obtained by the Star Tribune through a public data request, outlines a litany of troubling behavior, from offensive remarks and unwanted physical contact to overt threats of violence.

In one instance, Jefferson reportedly reenacted a police restraint by putting his hands on a female subordinate, "bending her forward without warning or consent," according to the document.

Witnesses corroborated that he "advanced on" employees by aggressively invading their personal space in an attempt at intimidation. He once did this to a woman, placing his face inches from hers, before demanding to know: "WHO do you work for?!"

Jefferson also repeatedly declared that he wanted to "wipe an employee off the face of the Earth" and "throat punch" him, records show. Those comments left staff with heightened concerns about their safety, given that Jefferson often discussed how he carries a concealed weapon, though no one reported seeing one at work.

Attempts to reach Jefferson for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

The report, based on interviews with 17 current employees, was submitted Jan. 16, exactly one month before Jefferson's departure. Asked why Jefferson was never placed on administrative leave during the investigation or after the report concluded that policy violations had occurred, a city spokesman said that the decision ultimately rested with his boss, then-Civil Rights Director Alberder Gillespie.

Jefferson resigned Feb. 16 — the same day that Mayor Jacob Frey terminated Gillespie, on grounds that she was hampering the city's efforts to reform policing in accordance with a court-approved settlement.

City officials have long declined to comment on the nature of his exit, citing data privacy laws.

Tasked with police review

Jefferson, a Marine Corps. combat veteran, came out of retirement after 35 years in law enforcement to help rebuild Minneapolis' civilian oversight apparatus in late 2022.

The Office of Police Conduct Review — a division of the Civil Rights Department — had been without a director for more than a year and faced staffing shortages amid a mounting backlog of police misconduct complaints.

In his new role, Jefferson was responsible for clearing that backlog and training the city's latest iteration of a civilian oversight board, which reviews individual misconduct cases and weighs whether to recommend discipline to the police chief.

Yet progress stalled under his leadership last fall.

The office was failing to update its website intended to keep residents apprised about the number of complaints filed against police. It was also struggling to investigate misconduct complaints within 180 days — the time frame required under a settlement agreement between the city and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020.

And a lack of initial cooperation between Minneapolis police and OPCR delayed disciplinary decisions by the 15-member Community Commission on Police Oversight (CCPO), which reviewed only two cases in the first six months of its existence.

At the time, Jefferson pointed to limited resources and a department restructuring as major hurdles. But longstanding frustrations with the office eventually boiled over, and by December, superiors in City Hall zeroed in on Gillespie's oversight of the unit — and fired her.

When City Operations Officer Margaret Anderson Kelliher stepped in as interim, she "immediately placed Jefferson on administrative leave" because the complaints against him were still pending, a city spokesman said.

He quit hours later. The exodus of two prominent Black leaders further plunged the city's embattled civilian review process into chaos. Amid the fallout, two CCPO members abruptly resigned, each citing Gillespie's "politically motivated" removal among the reasons for their exit.

The Star Tribune filed a data request to obtain personnel records for both Gillespie and Jefferson the day their employment ended. Gillespie's documents were released within hours, unredacted. City officials took nine weeks to turn over Jefferson's data, repeatedly declining to confirm whether there were open complaints against him at the time of his departure.

A search remains underway for Gillespie's permanent replacement. Kelliher appointed Carolina Amini, a former investigator in that office, as interim director of OPCR.

Report cites 'toxic' environment

Personnel records reveal some overlap in the allegations lodged against Jefferson and Gillespie, including claims that they were uncooperative with the City Attorney's office and refused to share information with it.

According to the documents, Jefferson forbade staff from consulting with the embedded city attorney in their office and once "chewed out" a subordinate for contacting the attorney to procure a process manual.

One OPCR employee described a "toxic" environment, filled with paranoia about whom staff members were speaking to outside the department — even former colleagues. When one employee transferred to another city division, Jefferson began referring to the woman only as "Crazy" or "The Crazy."

The witness opined that Jefferson was attempting to "hide how far out of compliance" the office is with the MDHR agreement by tamping down on external communication, records show. He expressed resistance to sharing any information with Jones Day, the external law firm providing pro bono assistance in tackling the complaint backlog. A reason was never explicitly given.

Staff members also described examples of Jefferson's "dismissive, adversarial, belittling and unprofessional treatment" of staff, especially women.

He routinely talked over female employees, repeated their statements and maintained "prolonged eye contact and physical proximity" that made them uncomfortable, according to the investigative summary.

Jefferson used derogatory phrases, often spoke of "foreigners" and recounted war stories about the Middle East in front of Muslim employees, documents show. He also questioned employees' plans to travel abroad, advised that they could be kidnapped and offered to connect them with the U.S. Embassy or an armed unit.

As OPCR director, Jefferson was paid an annual salary of nearly $140,000 and oversaw a budget of some $2.2 million and 14 full-time employees.

Jefferson started his law enforcement career as an Indiana state trooper in 1985 and patrolled for 12 years before joining the FBI. He initially worked on complex drug trafficking investigations targeting South American cartels but, in the aftermath of 9/11, switched his focus to counterterrorism.

In the mid-2000s, Jefferson served in Afghanistan and Iraq alongside special forces units working to topple the Taliban and Al Qaeda. His extensive resume notes he conducted interviews at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and later contributed to the capture of one of the FBI's most wanted terrorists.

Under the administration of President Barack Obama, Jefferson acted as a personal protection detail for U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. and his family. He capped his federal career with a nine-year stint as coordinator of the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, where he oversaw internal misconduct investigations into all employees.

Jefferson retired in 2021. Gillespie hired him to lead OPCR the following year.

Staff writer Dave Orrick contributed to this report.