For the second time in two weeks, the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office is asking state human rights officials to provide them with more precise data and underlying evidence to back up their charge of systemic race-based policing in the city's police department.
If they refuse, "the City specifically reserves its right to assert any claims or defenses it may have," according to a May 27 letter addressed to Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero.
The letter, signed by Assistant City Attorney Sara Lathrop, comes amid stalled consent decree negotiations since the Minnesota Department of Human Rights published the scathing findings of its investigation in late April.
When the report was first published, then-City Attorney Jim Rowader said the city was "fully committed to working with MDHR to address the issues in the report" and looked forward to meeting with human rights officials.
A month later, his office cancelled a standing meeting with human rights leaders, putting negotiations on hold. Lawyers for Minneapolis said at the time they could not substantiate — and Lucero declined to provide evidence of — damning claims that police had used social media accounts to spy on Black people and Black-led organizations unrelated to criminal activity over the past decade, while not similarly surveilling white groups.
The May 27 letter further calls the social media spying allegations into question, indicating the city found what appears to be contradictory evidence: "There are several references in the social media files provided to MDHR that identify likely-white groups that the covert accounts similarly followed, such as 'Patriot Ride,' 'Bikers for 45 National Page,' and 'Veterans United Against Antifa,' among others," wrote Lathrop.
The 72-page human rights charge, prompted by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, concluded that city police engaged in a pattern of racial discrimination in violation of the state's civil rights law over the past decade, actions that were enabled by several political administrations failing to hold problem officers accountable. Political leaders hailed the unprecedented investigation for exposing systemic problems in police culture, including Mayor Jacob Frey, who said the findings made him "sick to my stomach."
Acknowledging the city has at times failed to follow through on recommendations to improve accountability in the Police Department, Frey said: "This time it needs to be different."
In the new letter, Lathrop says the city is still "committed to working collaboratively with MDHR toward those goals," but they can't follow through without better understanding what's behind the allegations. While not disputing any of the charges, the letter says some require clarity.
"Given the report covers more than 10 years, more information will be essential to developing measurable outcomes that keep the City and MPD moving forward with reforms," she wrote. "Statements of needed change and increased accountability cannot create the lasting change our residents deserve and demand. We need specifics."
Asked for comment, Acting City Attorney Peter Ginder said: "We remain committed to working collaboratively with MDHR, which is why we asked for this additional information. We want to fully understand the report's findings, which would then help us understand what needs to be done to improve the police department."
When contacted by the Star Tribune for a response, MDHR spokesperson Taylor Putz provided a statement confirming the department received the May 27 letter from Minneapolis city attorneys.
"MDHR is reviewing the letter and looks forward to productive conversations moving forward."
In the letter, Lathrop cites a list of findings she says require more information from human rights officials, including the analysis conducted to find racial disparities in traffic stops.
"While we are not surprised by this finding, specific details underlying this finding have not yet been shared with the City to effectively identify and address those issues," wrote Lathrop. "To better understand the nature of the data analyzed by MDHR's expert and how the nature of this data can help provide community public safety more equitably, we request a copy of the underlying analysis supporting these findings."
Another addresses the claim in the charging report that "MPD maintains a culture where MPD officers consistently use racist, misogynistic and disrespectful language and are rarely held accountable."
"On what basis did MDHR conclude that this language was used consistently?" asks Lathrop. "To effectively address this problem, it is essential to understand whether 20 officers used this language over ten years, or 200 officers; was the language routine in all precincts? In addition, Respondents do not have an understanding of MDHR's conclusion that officers are rarely held accountable for using such language."
Others ask for specific descriptions of racist and sexist tropes allegedly used in police training, and more details behind failures of the systems to investigative and discipline officer misconduct.