A woman who was charged with a misdemeanor after she recorded Robbinsdale police holding two Black men at gunpoint settled a federal civil rights lawsuit with the city this week for $70,000 and policy reforms.
Robbinsdale police charged Amy Koopman with obstructing the legal process in 2018 after she stood on the opposite side of an intersection and livestreamed officers who pulled over a car and approached it with guns drawn.
She said she wanted to stream the interaction on Facebook to ensure that the two Black motorists remained safe and that police would be held accountable. Koopman, who was a church secretary and seminary student at the time of the encounter, sued the city after her misdemeanor criminal charge was dismissed in 2019.
"I am proud and humbled to have been able to hold their feet to the fire and push them as far as we did toward reformation and reparation," Koopman said in a statement Tuesday. "I hope this puts other police departments on notice that there are citizens who are filming them, holding them to account, and who will fight them for as long as it takes to ensure that people's rights are upheld."
A Hennepin County judge dismissed charges against Koopman after finding that "no reasonable officer could construe [Koopman's] shouting as 'physically obstructing or interfering' in the performance of their duties." Attorneys representing the city in the federal lawsuit argued that Koopman's claims were barred by the legal doctrines of qualified and official immunity.
In a statement Tuesday, Jason Hively, an attorney representing the city, confirmed that Robbinsdale and its insurer, the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, agreed to pay Koopman $70,000 in exchange for a release of the city and its police officers from her lawsuit. He also confirmed that the city agreed to nonmonetary terms related to policies, procedures, and training.
"The City and Insurance Trust determined that resolving this matter at this early stage would avoid the attorneys' fees and costs associated with going to trial," Hively said.
The city of Robbinsdale and officers Christine Allen, Joshua Heasley, and Nicole Saba were named as defendants in the suit.
According to court documents, Heasley stopped the vehicle when he ran its license plates and learned that the registered owner was wanted for felony first-degree burglary. Allen and Saba soon joined Heasley during the traffic stop. The two men were safely taken into custody, according to the city's answer to Koopman's lawsuit.
Koopman was part of a large crowd that gathered at a nearby intersection to watch the encounter and was commanded to move away so the crowd would not be in the line of fire, according to the city's response to the lawsuit.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) and pro bono attorneys at Bass Law Firm and Forsgren Fisher McCalmont DeMarea Tysver represented Koopman in the lawsuit.
The settlement will also require the Robbinsdale Police Department to adopt policies that codify bystanders' rights to record police conduct while barring officers from taking adverse actions against bystanders who do so or who verbally object to that conduct.
The department must have a policy subjecting officers to discipline, including firing, if they violate the law or fail to follow department policies. Officers must also attend training on the First and Fourth Amendments and state law on obstruction.
The lawsuit that Koopman, who is white, filed last year said that she thought of past cases of the high-profile fatal police shootings in Minnesota such as the shootings of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark when she saw the 2018 encounter begin. Her attorneys meanwhile sought to draw parallels between her case and the recording that Darnella Frazier made of the 2020 Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, which sparked a global outcry.
"The ability to record police, stand witness and hold police misconduct up to public scrutiny is critical to help stop killings by police and over-policing," ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney said in a statement Tuesday. "This settlement sends a clear message to law enforcement across our state that cracking down on people's constitutional rights to record or speak to police is bad public policy, and will not be tolerated."