Omar leads call to expand federal investigation of policing in Minn.

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U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and nearly two dozen Democratic elected officials are asking the Justice Department to expand its review of the Minneapolis Police Department to include seven other state and local police agencies.

In a letter, Omar asked U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to widen his department's investigation in Minneapolis to include the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota State Patrol, Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and police departments in Brooklyn Center, Richfield, Edina and St. Anthony.

"The May 2020 murder of George Floyd under the knee of MPD officer Derek Chauvin showed millions of people around the world how MPD policed — and continues to police — Black, Indigenous, and people of color in our community," Omar wrote in the letter sent Tuesday. "However, recent years of similar law enforcement actions in Minnesota show that the murder of Mr. Floyd is not unique — it is a pattern among many Minnesota law enforcement agencies."

In April, one day after Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, Garland announced the opening of a new investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a "pattern and practice" of illegal conduct.

All 12 City Council members, Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo welcomed the investigation. The Justice Department has also filed federal criminal civil rights charges against Chauvin and the other three officers involved in Floyd's death.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights is meanwhile still looking into a decade's worth of policies and practices as well as whether the Minneapolis Police Department engaged in systemic discrimination.

In the letter, Omar made the case for expanding the scope of the federal investigation by citing recent examples of deadly police encounters and alleged discrimination.

She pointed out Philando Castile's long history of being pulled over for minor traffic violations in the years before he was killed by former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in a 2016 traffic stop. Omar said the "share of Black people" pulled over by St. Anthony police has increased each year since Castile's death.

Omar also cited the September 2019 police shooting death of Brian Quinones by officers from the Edina and Richfield departments. And she described the April police shooting death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center as a case that "illustrates that this is not an issue of training or fear."

"It is a pattern that repeats among many law enforcement agencies throughout the Twin Cities metro," Omar wrote. "Across the state, Black Minnesotans are disproportionately arrested for low-level crimes and are disproportionately likely to experience violence at the hands of police."

The DFL congresswoman — whose Fifth District includes Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, St. Anthony, Richfield and part of Edina — also took issue with the law enforcement response to protests over deadly police encounters, specifically the use of "less-lethal" munitions and what she described as "chemical weapons" against protesters and journalists.

Omar accused the Operation Safety Net joint-command response ahead of Chauvin's trial of obscuring the chain of command, resulting in "excessive violence to community members without accountability." The agencies involved in policing the protests, Omar wrote, "should not be allowed to let a 'partnership' such as OSN obscure their responsibility to uphold civil and human rights."

DFL Sens. Chris Eaton, Omar Fateh, Mary Kunesh and Patricia Torres Ray also signed the letter, along with state Reps. Esther Agbaje, Sandra Feist, Aisha Gomez, Sydney Jordan and Fue Lee. Hennepin County Commissioners Angela Conley, Irene Fernando and Marion Greene and Minneapolis Councilmembers Jeremiah Ellison, Steve Fletcher, Cam Gordon, Andrea Jenkins, Andrew Johnson and Jeremy Schroder each signed on, as did Brooklyn Center Council Member Marquita Butler.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot said Tuesday that he supported the call for the federal probe to include his city's police department. Edina City Manager Scott Neal meanwhile said that while the city welcomed conversations about police practices and procedures "with our community and other interested parties," it did not believe a formal federal investigation was warranted.

"We are disappointed in Rep. Omar's request for such an investigation because it targets specific police departments, suggesting possible wrongdoing," Neal said. "We do not think that is fair to the staff of the Edina Police Department."

Other agencies named in the letter didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Justice Department's Minneapolis investigation is looking into whether police have engaged in a pattern of unlawful excessive force, including during protests. Federal investigators are also assessing whether the department is discriminatory and whether it treats people with "behavioral health disabilities" illegally. Investigators are also looking into the department's systems of accountability, and whether new mechanisms are required.

Garland in April said the Justice Department would issue a public report of its findings if it discovered a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. It can also bring a civil lawsuit asking a judge to force changes if it cannot strike an agreement with the city.

"I strongly believe that good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices," Garland said in April. "Good officers welcome accountability because accountability is an essential part of building trust with the community, and public safety requires public trust."

Garland did not set a timeline for the investigation, instead noting that "justice is sometimes slow, sometimes elusive, and sometimes never comes."

Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, supports the Justice Department's Minneapolis investigation but described Omar's letter as "unrelenting undermining of law enforcement" that is "becoming counterproductive to reform efforts."

"We often hear folks say 'enough is enough' when it comes to the violence we've been experiencing," Cramer said. "When is it also 'enough' in terms of the indictment of policing, so the efforts to usher in more trusted and just law enforcement can get a foot hold?"

It is unclear how many additional resources would be needed to fulfill Omar's request to broaden the scope of the federal probe.

But Omar wrote that the practices allegedly deployed by the Minneapolis Police Department that led to Floyd's death "are not unique among Minnesota law enforcement."

"These issues are visible both in proactive law enforcement settings like traffic stops and arrests, but also in the law enforcement response to protests shining a light on these injustices," she wrote. "Minnesota has some of the nation's worst and most persistent racial disparities, and the DOJ's investigation of systemic issues in Minnesota law enforcement would be an important step toward addressing our state's racial inequities."

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755

Twitter: @smontemayor

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