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Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)

Minneapolis cops file discrimination lawsuit

by Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
December 3, 2007

Five African-American officers in the Minneapolis Police Department have filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the department and police chief Tim Dolan.

Dolan denies that his personnel decisions have been based on race. But the officers say the department has a history of racism and the situation has gotten worse during Dolan's tenure as chief.

Minneapolis — The five police officers are all men with at least 18 years experience in the department. They say they've been passed over for promotions, lost out on overtime pay and have been unfairly disciplined -- all because they are African American.

The most recent allegation of discrimination involves Sgt. Charlie Adams. Last week, Adams was accused of insubordination after he publicly spoke out against statements made by his commanding officer.

The incident occurred during the investigation into the killing of bicyclist Mark Loesch. Homicide unit commander Lt. Amelia Huffman announced that one of the suspects in the killing told investigators the victim was looking to buy marijuana just before he was killed.

Adams spoke out and said there was no evidence that the victim had been looking for drugs, and he apologized to Loesch's family for the statements made by Huffman.

The complaint alleges that while Adams' white partner made the same statements, only Adams received a punitive transfer out of the homicide division.

Attorney John Klassen is part of the legal team that's suing on the officers' behalf.

"Sgt. Adams has brought claims for disparate discipline, disparate treatment in promotions, disparate treatment in other privileges and rights in employment such as overtime compensation. These types of claims are common for all five plaintiffs," says Klassen.

The other plaintiffs are Lt. Lee Edwards, Lt. Dennis Hamilton, Lt. Don Harris and Lt. Medaria Arrodondo.

Earlier this year, Edwards was demoted from his post as 4th Precinct inspector. He was reportedly disciplined for driving a city vehicle while intoxicated, and for making offensive comments to subordinates. The complaint calls those charges false.

Two other co-plaintiffs, Harris and Arrodondo, applied for Edwards' old job. Harris had previously served as a deputy chief, and Arrodondo had served as an acting inspector.

According to the complaint, Dolan appointed Mike Sauro as the acting inspector in the 4th Precinct. Sauro is a white officer who has been sued multiple times over allegations of brutality. The city has paid out nearly $1 million to settle lawsuits against Sauro. Later, another white officer, Lt. Mike Martin, was permanently appointed to run the 4th precinct.

Attorney John Klassen says both Arrodondo and Harris were more qualified to run the 4th precinct than Martin. He says the suit is full of similar accounts.

"This is an extremely detailed, lengthy complaint which sets out a long history of claims," says Klasse. "Including breaches by the city of Minneapolis of the federally mediated agreement back in 2003, the intent of which was to correct some of these problems. Its obligations have never been filled by the Minneapolis Police Department."

"We are confident in Chief Dolan's ability to lead the police department and ensure it reflects the diversity of the city."
- Mayor R.T. Rybak and Council President Barb Johnson

The mediation was called for by a group of community activists who expressed concern over unequal treatment of black citizens by police officers.

The suit alleges that black officers have also suffered under a racially hostile environment. It says that in 1992, black officers received a hate letter signed "KKK" through the interoffice mail.

Some say conditions for black officers got a little better under former chief William McManus. McManus is white and came from an outside department.

During McManus' tenure, two African Americans were promoted to deputy chief positions, Don Harris and Valerie Wurster. Wurster is still on the command staff. But Harris was demoted after Dolan took over.

Minnesota Public Radio News reached Chief Dolan a few hours after the suit had been filed. Dolan said he hadn't had a chance to read the complaint, and likely wouldn't be able to comment on personnel matters.

Last week, Dolan responded to charges that his actions concerning Adams and other black officers have been racially based.

"That's ridiculous. Charlie Adams has been a fine officer in homicide. And I don't think there's anyone in homicide -- commander-wise or in the commander's investigations, including Val Wurster, who's African American -- who are targeting African Americans," Dolan said.

Dolan also has defended the department's policy on diversity. He says minority recruitment is at an all-time high.

During Dolan's 11-month tenure, violent crime in the city has dipped to lower levels than last year.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson issued a statement Monday afternoon in support of Chief Dolan.

"As city leaders we are committed to recruiting and retaining a culturally diverse workforce that reflects the community it serves. We take very seriously any charges of discrimination," they said. "We are confident in Chief Dolan's ability to lead the police department and ensure it reflects the diversity of the city. We share his commitment to building and retaining a diverse police force, and will continue to support his efforts to accomplish that."

The Minneapolis City Attorney's office will review the lawsuit and respond at a later date.


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