Mpls. halts police reform talks, citing lack of evidence on spying

The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office said it was unable to independently verify some of the most damning findings of a recent Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation into police of Minneapolis, prompting city leaders to halt negotiations with state officials on next steps toward a potential legal settlement.

In an email to Mayor Jacob Frey and city council members Friday afternoon, Assistant City Attorney Erik Nilsson said his office had reviewed “approximately 15,000 pages” of documents related to the use by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) of secret social media accounts and “found no evidence that the MPD was consistently targeting…black leaders, black organizations, and elected officials without a public safety objective,” as stated in the April 27 human rights report.

“The city has repeatedly asked the MDHR (Minnesota Department of Human Rights) for the specific documents it relies on – a reasonable request that attorneys for one side present to another to support its findings regarding secret social media,” Nilsson wrote. “The MDHR has repeatedly refused to share this vital information.

“At this time, our team is reviewing 15,000 pages of material to see if any inappropriate use has occurred in secret social media accounts.”

The 72-page human rights report prompted by the 2020 killing of George Floyd found that city police engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of the state over the past decade, actions that have been permitted by several political administrations. not holding problematic agents accountable.

The report said police created secret social media accounts — sometimes without permission — to spy on black people and black-led organizations unrelated to criminal activity.

“Specifically, MPD officers sent friend requests, commented on posts, sent private messages, and contributed to discussions,” the report said. “In doing so, the officers posed as like-minded people and claimed, for example, that they had met the targeted person at a protest or an earlier protest. In posts and messages on social media, MPD officers used language to deepen racial stereotypes associated with black people, especially black women.”

Frey initially called the results “disgusting, sometimes horrific” and pledged to pursue meaningful reforms. The city was working with human rights officials on a court-enforceable consent decree. But in his email Friday, Nilsson said he had canceled a meeting with state investigators next week and that negotiations would not resume until the human rights office agreed to share the evidence to support its conclusions.

“Our team was shocked by the report’s allegations regarding covert social media, and if it did in fact occur, it should be addressed immediately,” he wrote. “To properly advise you (our clients) and fulfill our professional obligations as your legal counsel, we must have accurate and complete information on this matter.”

Human Rights Department spokesman Taylor Putz said in a statement Friday that the office plans to move negotiations forward, but he did not address the issues.

“As we approach the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, the city has an opportunity to address unlawful discriminatory policing and strengthen public safety,” Putz said. “The next meeting will be on Tuesday. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights will be there, and we hope the city will be there as well.”

The Star Tribune also requested records of alleged social media espionage, but Putz said the data was “non-public” and his office would not provide it.

However, the law allows human rights officials to release the documents, said Matt Ehling, acting president of the Minnesota Coalition on Open Government Information, a nonprofit that advocates for transparency by public officials.

Unlike law enforcement agencies, the Human Rights Department is governed by special data laws that give the commissioner discretion to decide which records are made available to the public. Ehling said Commissioner Rebecca Lucero has the power to release the information – and he believes this is essential if the report is to lead to meaningful reform.

The Minneapolis police investigation “is probably one of the most significant investigations the department has ever undertaken,” Ehling said. “In order to bring about the kind of global changes the department advocates, it will take a lot of buy-in from the city and the community. I think there are very good reasons for people to be able to see the underlying data.”

The targets of the alleged espionage also expressed frustration with the lack of transparency from the human rights department.

Urban League Twin Cities president Steven Belton, whose organization is named in the report as the target of social media spying, said he met Lucero after it was published, but she was “clear as mud” when he asked for more information about the surveillance. .

Belton said Urban League staff feared for his safety and had been inundated with worried calls from members of the community.

“We want to know more about it,” he said. “The fact that the information is out there and we don’t know about it creates a sense of concern.”

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